Sunday, July 29, 2007

I have no idea why I had so seriously neglected to post this about my mom...

Blind woman spurred to good deeds by woes
By Jennifer Gentile/Staff Writer
Article Launched: 02/18/2007 08:06:14 AM PST

Lula Mathis is a sales rep at a Travis Air Force Base store.
Having faced blindness, breast cancer and her sister's death, Fairfield resident Lula Mathis still calls herself "blessed."
"All of these things came to make me a stronger, better person," said Mathis, who works as a sales associate on Travis Air Force Base. Although she is a civilian, she spends her days meeting the needs of military personnel, particularly for clothing.
The supply store where Mathis works is operated by the South Texas Lighthouse for the Blind, which recently named Mathis as its 2007 employee of the year and nominee for the national Peter J. Salmon Award. The award is named for a man who was instrumental in passing the Wagner-O' Day Act, which opened employment opportunities to the blind.
The ability to do her job does not come easily for Mathis, who lost her vision to macular degeneration. She relies heavily on specialized equipment, her supervisors and her other senses to get by.
One turning point in Mathis' life was her affliction with Bell's Palsy, a malfunction of the facial nerve that causes muscles to go limp. Through that experience, she said, "I had personal knowledge of knowing what I wanted to say and not being able to communicate."
"Even today, I must exercise my face to return it to as
much normalcy as possible," she said.
The experience inspired her, and before she lost her sight at age 25, the 63-year-old Florida native was an interpreter for the deaf. She said she was devastated when, due to her deteriorating vision, this became impossible.
"A deaf person talks with their hands," Mathis said. "For me to lose my vision means I can't hear what my students are saying to me."
Vision loss also meant the mother of two and grandmother of three needed to find another line of work. She approached the state for help and thereby found the opportunity with South Texas Lighthouse for the Blind.
"I had never worked in retail, and he took a chance on me," she said of Brad Husted, Western Region Retail Manager for the organization. "That's why it's very important to me to pull my own weight around here."
Husted said he is amazed by Mathis' "ability to overcome the obstacles we throw at her every day."
"She is a remarkable person," Husted said, adding, "She goes out of her way to make sure the customer is taken care of."
The challenges continue for Mathis at home, where she cares for her 29-year-old nephew, Bob, who was struck by a car while walking home from school at age 10. A month after the accident, which left Bob wheelchair-bound, his mother - Mathis' sister - died of an aneurysm.
The tragedy prompted Mathis to write a children's book, which she titled, "Never Alone." The story is told from the perspective of an eagle named Sam, who witnesses a boy's accident.
Sam calls on his bird friends to comfort Tom and assure him he is never alone.
"I wanted kids to know that no matter what was going on, there is a purpose," Mathis said.
Selling the book through her home and Web site,, she said the response has been overwhelming. The author has not profited from the sale, contributing proceeds to the "less fortunate."
Beyond caring for Bob, Mathis said "cooking is a nightmare and sewing is almost impossible." She said she could not function without her son, Al, who helps her meet her daily needs.
Almost as an afterthought, she talked about beating breast cancer 13 years ago. The diagnosis shocked her, she said, because she took care of herself and had no family history.
Confronting yet another obstacle, Mathis educated herself and won the battle. Recalling the long-ago victory, she speaks about the deadly disease as if
it were a minor nuisance in her life.
"I come to find out it's just bad cells reproducing themselves," she said. "That's all cancer is."
Mathis said she is in even better health after cancer, and her biggest problem now is her blindness. At work, a machine that enlarges print and
a hand-held magnifier allow her to stock shelves and track orders.
Getting items to soldiers as they leave for war can be difficult, and it is a challenge Mathis finds rewarding. They are often unreachable in the days before their deployment, but Mathis goes above and beyond to get their orders from the store to them.
"When you're faced with an impossibility, it's not impossible," she said. "You just have to find another way to do it."
As for the award, Mathis said the recognition is appreciated, but not necessary.
"I'm honored that they did this, but I was not working for an award or anything," Mathis said.
"I'm blessed to have this job. To be able to help soldiers as they go off to fight, to me is an honor."
Jennifer Gentile can be reached at

No comments: