Frey Blazed BVA Trail
Raymond T. Frey, Sr., one of BVA’s key founding members and its first National President, died March 8 in Cornwall, Pennsylvania.
Born May 7, 1917 in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, Ray was a 1935 graduate of Lebanon High School and a 1939 graduate of Lebanon Valley College. Following college, he was a teacher and coach at Marietta High School. With the outbreak of World War II, Ray served as second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers and was blinded in February 1943 in a booby trap explosion. He became the first serviceman to enter Valley Forge General Hospital as a blind patient.
Following more than 50 years of blindness, Ray received a corneal transplant in the 1990s that, amazing to many, enabled him to regain considerable vision in one eye. In recent years at BVA, Ray was known perhaps as much for the restoration of his sight as for his pioneering efforts in getting the organization started.
After Ray’s Army discharge, he was employed as a consultant to the blind at Valley Forge and was a major figure in the planning and organization of BVA’s inaugural meeting at Avon Old Farms Army Convalescent Hospital on March 28, 1945.
Five members of BVA’s first National Board of Directors and organizational founders who served during 1945-46, most notably National President Raymond Frey. The photo was likely taken in BVA’s first national office, a desk in the corner of the Gundy Tea Room in Farmington, Connecticut.
In an August 1995 article entitled “BVA—The Formative Years,” written by Ray himself for the special 50th anniversary issue of the Bulletin, Ray recounted having been invited to the meeting by Baynard Kendrick, an employee at Old Farms and the author of “Lights Out,” a novel about a veteran blinded in World War II that was also made into a movie. Ray’s efforts in taking a lead role at the meeting most assuredly led to his election as president that day.
Shortly after his election, Ray was appointed by VA to serve on the Advisory Committee for the Rehabilitation of Blinded Veterans, a precursor perhaps to today’s Visual Impairment Advisory Board (VIAB). Under his direction, the first BVA Bulletin was printed on April 15, 1946. It included a section entitled Message from the President that is stunningly similar to the current President’s Page format. His message provided a list of proposed contents for future issues that closely mirrors the Bulletin of the 21st Century.
At the close of the war, Ray enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate Hospital to acquire certification for physical therapy, where he finished third in his class. He went on to work for 28 years as a physical therapist at VA Medical Centers in Wilmington, Delaware, and his hometown of Lebanon. He supervised the opening of the physical therapy program at Lebanon.
Ray was a gifted athlete, particularly in football and basketball. He was inducted into the Lebanon Valley College Hall of Fame in the first year of selections for his achievements in the two sports. He also received the outstanding alumnus award from the college. He was a member of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame and selected as a member of Sports Illustrated’s Silver Anniversary All-America football team in 1968.
Ray was recognized on many fronts for his work on behalf of the disabled, including a meritorious citation from the President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped. According to Past BVA National President Neil Appleby, he was active after retirement in preparing travelogue programs with his wife, Dorothy.
“The two of them traveled extensively and they recorded their experiences on 35-millimeter slides which they then shared with church groups, nursing homes, and clubs,” said Neil. “After Ray’s corneal transplant, they revisited some of the places so that he could see what he missed the first time.”
Ray is survived by Dorothy, two children, four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.