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Buddy Spivey: “Larger Than Life”


Buddy Brown Spivey, longtime active supporter, leader, and member of BVA, passed away January 9, 2014 in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

His obituary was published in the January 13 edition of the Arkansas Online newspaper.

Buddy Spivey, left, received Melvin J. Maas Award on August 19, 1989 from then National President Henry J. Berube at BVA 44th National Convention in Denver, Colorado.
Buddy Spivey, left, received Melvin J. Maas Award on August 19, 1989 from then National President Henry J. Berube at BVA 44th National Convention in Denver, Colorado.

Born December 31, 1941 in Washington D.C., Buddy was considered a true American hero by all who knew him, including a wide circle of friends within the national BVA organization, the regional groups to which he belonged, and the countless blinded veterans he counseled and assisted as a BVA Field Service Representative during 1973-83. For his distinguished professional accomplishments he was awarded BVA’s highest honor, the Melvin J. Maas Award for Professional Achievement, in 1989.

When asked how he was doing, Buddy always responded with an emphatic "OUT-STANDING!"

His life story and character were remarkable. As a member of the United States Marine Corps, he was severely injured by an explosion in Vietnam on December 7, 1967. Most of his unit originally believed he had died that day. He spent 18 months in the Philadelphia Naval Hospital. Although he was totally blind, lost his right leg, and suffered brain damage, he never lost his spirit and lived a full and fun-filled life after his injury.

Buddy earned two Purple Hearts and retired from the Marines at the rank of Captain.

After years of physical and blind rehabilitation, he returned to his beloved alma mater, the University of Arkansas, where he earned a Master's Degree in Counseling (1971) and an Education Specialist Degree (1972).

Buddy worked a full career until he retired in 2007 as a VIST Coordinator at the Little Rock VA Medical Center. As a BVA Field Service Representative, he traveled alone across 14 states counseling and helping other blinded veterans. He later worked as a Counseling Psychologist and social worker at the VA Medical Center in Arkansas. Buddy rarely missed a day of work.

He loved being part of something bigger than himself, whether it was the marching band, the Marine Corps, the Disabled American Veterans Association, the BVA national organization and the Arkansas Razorbacks Regional Group, or even the Edsel Owner's Club. He was also a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon, the American Legion, the First Marine Division, the Third Marine Division, the Marine Corps League, the Retired Officers Association, the National Order of Trench Rats, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and the First United Methodist Church in North Little Rock.

Buddy attended the University of Arkansas and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Commercial Art prior to his military service. His artistic talents were broad. He painted remarkable portraits, landscapes, and abstracts. He also excelled at technical and commercial drawings. He loved designing cars. After graduation, instead of designing cars, he volunteered for the United States Marine Corps. As much as anything else, Buddy was a Marine.

Buddy is survived by his wife, Jeanne Spivey, well-known in BVA circles; his son and daughter-in-law, Patrick and Elizabeth Spivey of Little Rock; his step-daughter, who Buddy thought of as a daughter, and son-in-law—respectively Michelle and Andrew Nichols of Oceanside, California; two grandchildren, Audrey and Adeline Spivey of Little Rock; his uncle, Calvin Spivey of Rogers, Arkansas; his aunt, Adeline Spivey, also of Rogers; and numerous cousins, all of whom Buddy loved dearly.

Funeral services for Buddy were held on January 17 at the First United Methodist Church in North Little Rock. Burial was scheduled for April 2 at Arlington National Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, the family requested that memorials be made in Buddy's honor to BVA, 477 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20001-2694 (; or the Marine Corps League Foundation at P.O. Box 3070, Merrifield, Virginia 22116-3070 (

Awards Deadline Fast Approaching


BVA will award seven total scholarships for the 2014-15 academic year, six under the Kathern F. Gruber classification and one through the Thomas H. Miller program.

The Gruber scholarships are valued at $2,000 each and the Miller scholarship is for $1,000.

The Miller program, now in its second year, requires the same application process and qualifications as the Gruber awards except for an added emphasis on music and fine arts. The scholarship committee will choose seven recipients and three alternates.

Dependent children, grandchildren, and spouses of both blinded veterans and active duty blinded service members of the U.S. Armed Forces are eligible for the scholarships. The veteran must be legally blind and the blindness may be either service connected or nonservice connected. The veteran need not be a member of the Blinded Veterans Association.

To be eligible for the scholarship, an applicant must have been accepted for admission, or already be enrolled, as a full-time student in an accredited institution of higher education or business, secretarial, or vocational training school.

BVA began its first scholarship program more than 30 years ago. The awards are intended to defray a student's educational expenses, including tuition, books, and other academic fees. Scholarship payments will be made by BVA directly to the educational institution.

The scholarships will be awarded on a "most-highly-qualified" basis utilizing the following criteria: answers to questions on the application form; transcripts of high school and/or college records; three letters of reference; and a 300-word essay relating to the applicant's career goals and aspirations as well as past awards and achievements. A selection committee will choose seven recipients and three alternates.

Scholarships are awarded for one year only. Applicants are advised that, as mandated by the BVA National Board of Directors, Gruber and Miller scholarship recipients are limited to a total of four scholarships during their college careers.

Applications for the scholarships may be obtained from the Blinded Veterans Association, 477 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20001, on the BVA website (look on Programs page in section entitled “Kathern F. Gruber Scholarships and Thomas H. Miller Awards”).

Completed applications and supporting materials must be returned to BVA no later than Friday, April 18, 2014. Due to time constraints, applications arriving subsequent to the aforementioned deadline will not be accepted.

Colorado Vet Displays Art


BVA member and award-winning blind artist Jim Stevens was one of only 37 entries invited to demonstrate his work at this year’s Mixed Media art show sponsored by the Women’s Caucus for Art in Colorado. Jim’s intricate stone and shell inlay work was chosen from an open call of more than 200 nationwide entries.

The show displayed the entries September 12-29, 2013 in the Denver Arts District. Patricia Calhoun, Editor-in-Chief of the alternative newspaper Westword in Denver, juried the show. Calhoun is known for her frank commentaries about art, having been a purchaser and supporter of artists for more than 30 years.

Jim first began artwork as a child and studied with American master sculptor Ed Dwight, whom he assisted with his 12-foot high bronze statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that stands outside Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Jim lost his eyesight as a result of combat wounds while serving as a Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol Leader in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. In 1994, although he was left with only a pinpoint of eyesight, he has never lost his love for art.

Today he uses special lenses and his sense of touch to create award-winning works of sculpture, scrimshaw, graphite, and inlay that are galleried across the country and collected internationally. Jim is also the author of three books on the American art form of scrimshaw.

Jim also enjoys his children and his continued study of the martial arts. In 2002, he became the only legally blind man to ever win the men’s fighting competition at the Rocky Mountain Martial Arts “Tournament of Champions.” In 2004, he achieved the rank of Shodan, a Shaolin black belt.

More information about Jim and his work is located at

Headquarters Hosts Mid-Winter Meetings


Members of the BVA National Board of Directors, full-time National Field Service Officers, and a Field Service Intern convened for official business and training in the Nation’s Capital February 25-28.

The meetings were held at the National Headquarters building in the Chinatown neighborhood of Washington, DC.

Joining the Service Officers for the first time in the full group were Region 2 Intern Couao Agbossou and Region 6 North Officer Eileen Vasquez. The Board of Directors welcomed Dr. Tom Zampieri as the new Interim Director of District 6.

Both groups moved swiftly through full agendas, which included reports to the Board by Department Directors, and presentations and instruction to Field Service personnel, and a Friday afternoon gathering to honor those with birthdays during the first quarter of the year.

Flores Offers Gift of Self


Dozens of BVA volunteers throughout the country, a high percentage of them blinded veterans themselves, selflessly serve those who are adjusting to blindness or who need assistance in other ways.

One such shining example is Felipe Flores, a BVA Volunteer National Service Officer (VNSO) since 1994 who currently works at both BVA’s office in Menlo Park, California and the Western Blind Rehabilitation Center in nearby Palo Alto. He is assisted in his work 3-4 days per week by his wife, Estrella.

Longtime BVA member and dedicated volunteer Felipe Flores.
Longtime BVA member and dedicated volunteer Felipe Flores.

Early in his service as a volunteer, which preceded his appointment as a VNSO, Felipe accompanied veterans to their appointments. Later, former benefits rater and blinded veteran Arlen Marlette trained Felipe in processing claims and provided him with expertise in compensation and pension benefits.

According to BRC Director Nikki Sandlan, Felipe meets with new trainees to provide resources about BVA and VA benefits. He also meets on a one-to-one basis to discuss personal benefit issues. Felipe was the first volunteer who met with the first OEF Traumatic Brain Injured veteran attending the BRC.

“By all accounts, Felipe embodies the BVA motto ‘Blinded Veterans Helping Blinded Veterans,’” said National Field Service Officer Claudia Perry. “He and Estrella continue working with the National Field Service Program as highly skilled volunteers.”

In addition to his BVA service, Felipe has occupied the post of California Commander of the National G.I. Forum. He served for seven years as the VSO Director of the organization. He was the recipient in 2002 of the GI Forum’s Hector P. Garcia Founders Award. In 2006, he was named Veteran of the Year by the City of San Jose.

Felipe also received the American Red Cross Military Hero Award in 2007 and was a recipient of the GI Forum’s National Life Achievement Award in June 2011. In 2012, he was honored with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Outstanding Merit Award for Volunteering.

Blind Vet Vocalist Entertains at Party


A well-known singer who has performed all over the world, including Broadway and the Epcot Center, made a professional stop in Garland, Texas, site of the holiday gathering of the North Texas Regional Group.

The December 13 party, which included lunch and music, was held at the Chambrel at Club Hill, the senior living community of regional group president Art Feagins. Approximately 18 members of the group were present at the event.

Tommy Ray Williams Tommy Ray Williams, a Vietnam era veteran with legal blindness from nearby Anna, Texas, first met Art at a VIST support group meeting at the Medical Center while Williams was a residential trainee at the Waco BRC. He was recognized at the meeting for his frequent singing of the National Anthem at Dallas area sports events, engagements at country club and supper club gatherings, and free performances at independent and assisted living centers and memory care units.

It was a natural for Art to invite him to the annual holiday party to perform both specific musical numbers as well as background music.

“We were honored to have him there,” he said. “He came to us on the way to Roswell, New Mexico, to visit his dad, who had just suffered a heart attack two days before.”

Art said the keeping of the engagement came from one of two, or perhaps both, commitments: “The show must go on,” or “Semper Fi.” Either way, Williams kept his word and made it to sing for the group.

Tommy Ray Williams performs songs of the “The Greatest Generation,” labeling the music of that era “timeless compositions that hold tremendous memories for listeners and performers alike.” Although his training in college was primarily classical in nature, he has also sung gospel, country, folk, and even rock n’ roll.

Williams credits his ability to continue performing, even after sight loss, largely to the independent living skills and technology training he received at Waco. His accompaniment at the party, for example, originated from a VA-issued iPad from which he piped the music through an amplifier.

Zampieri Reminisces at HQ Farewell Gathering


Since April 2005, long-tenured BVA Director of Government Relations Dr. Tom Zampieri has often been the center of attention at Congressional offices and Capitol Hill hearings as he vocalized his passion for blinded veterans and their families.

On the last Friday before the Thanksgiving holiday, Tom’s final day upon his retirement, he was the center of attention at BVA National Headquarters.

Current and former staff members said their good-byes, well wishes, and fond memories of Tom’s work and vibrant personality. They also watched him receive gifts consisting of the same Braille flag he was so accustomed to presenting to others, a Superman suit, and a puzzle of the U.S. Capitol.

Tom Zampieri with gift from Blind Veterans UK upon his retirement from BVA.
Tom Zampieri with gift from Blind Veterans UK upon his retirement from BVA.

From admirers “across the pond” with whom he closely worked at Blind Veterans UK he received a bronze statue of a British soldier resting on a wooden base.

“Working for BVA for eight and a half years has been worth a lifetime of memories for me,” he told the group. “In the end, my visits to Walter Reed and my experiences on Capitol Hill, both positive and negative, are worth it if even one blinded veteran knows we care—and that’s what makes the difference.”

Kayaker Goes Solo Down Grand Canyon


Lonnie Bedwell, a Navy veteran from the Indiana Regional Group, made history last August 21 by becoming the first totally blind kayaker ever to navigate the entire length of the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River.

Lonnie was guided by three other veterans from Team River Runner, who provided him with only voice commands during the 16-day, 226-mile journey.

In addition to his record-breaking feat, Lonnie fulfilled a dream he has long shared with Team River Runner Executive Director Joe Mornini. Quoted in a news release published days after the trip, Lonnie described the feelings that accompanied the achievement.

“Running the Grand Canyon was a dream for Joe and me, and now that dream has become a reality,” the quote stated. “I hope that other disabled persons will be able to share this feeling with me one day and achieve their dreams as well.”

Lonnie started kayaking only some four years ago after attending a Team River Runner event during which he learned the basics of kayaking.

BVA Members Achieve in Judo Competition


Three legally blind veteran athletes, all at the time southern Maryland residents from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Group, took high honors in judo competition at the 2013 Takemori Open held last October 5 in Hyattsville, Maryland.

Thomas Huff and Claudia Perry received first-place gold medals in Kata competition while Jason LeFevers, competing in Shiai, scored three ippons to win second place in the masters division. An ippon is one full point, the highest score a player can receive for a single move.

Three additional disabled veterans also participated in the event as members of the Washington, DC, VA Medical Center Adaptive Judo Club. The club receives support from USA Judo to spread the sport among veterans and service members with disabilities.

Certificate Recognizes Master Conductor


BVA Manager of Communications Stuart Nelson presented the retiring Victor S. Wahby, M.D., Ph.D. FACP, with a framed Certificate of Appreciation in a ceremony at VA Central Office last September 25.

Dr. Wahby’s significance to BVA is, in large part, his role as the most recent conductor of the VA National Medical Musical Group. In addition to BVA’s past support of the group, former BVA Executive Director Tom Miller introduced the group in two different national television broadcasts.

Described as “a renaissance man” in the ceremony and in an event program, Dr. Wahby is a physician, scientist, musician, and poet. A native of Egypt, he obtained his medical diploma from the historic Alexandria (Egypt) Medical School, a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, and clinical training at the Royal Postgraduate School of Medicine at Hammersmith, England.

Dr. Wahby joined VA Central Office in 1989 after residency and fellowship training at the Mayo Clinic, a professorship at the Yale Medical School, research in psychoendocrinology at the VA Medical Center in West Haven, Connecticut, and a position as Associate Chief of Staff for Education at the VA Medical Center in North Chicago.

Blinded Vets and Friends Provides Open Forum


Blinded Vets and Friends, a website and online educational service initiated by Jerry Hogan, South Texas Regional Group, continues to meet in an online conference room every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Central Time.

According to Jerry, the meetings consist of informal conversation, instruction, and guest speakers. Discussions center on issues of blindness but always have a specific focus relating to independence and finding solutions to everyday problems through use of technology and social networking. 

The website itself was created in 2006 as a place where blinded veterans could “gather, talk, exchange ideas and information, or just hang out.”

Lee Smiley, Northern California Regional Group, recently expressed his appreciation for the site and regular meetings. 

“I am grateful to Jerry and all the other vets on his website who have provided information on how to acquire veterans’ benefits,” he said.

For more information, contact Jerry Hogan at

Holiday Spirit Permeates Columbus, GA Chapter


Members of the Columbus Chapter of the Georgia Regional Group donated several hundred dollars of groceries to two families going through particularly difficult times during the recent holiday season. They also accompanied eight children from the two families on a shopping excursion at Wal-Mart, presenting them with $100 each to pick out their own gifts.

The efforts of the chapter were recognized in a 60-second news story on WTVM-9 in Columbus.

“As veterans, we receive a lot of things so we feel like it’s time to give back,” BVA member Clifford Jones was quoted in the news report. “That’s what we’re doing now—giving back.”

Columbus Chapter President Robert Dorsey said that the group’s intention is to make the giving an annual event and to increase each year the number of families helped. Their specific goal for 2014 is to double the number of families helped to four.

Service Officer Organizes “Vets for Pets” in Philly


BVA National Service Officer for Region 1 Wanda Grover recently teamed up with Philadelphia Boy Scout Ernest Brown to collect more than 2,500 pounds of dog food in 60 bags. The food was donated to pet dogs of currently deployed service members, guide dogs for blinded veterans, and K9 dogs.

The “Vets for Pets” effort culminated in a January 18 event, coordinated by Wanda and held at her George T. Cornish American Legion Post 292. The 50 Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts from three packs and three troops learned more about the role and work of service animals. Eight adult leaders were also present.

PACT for Animals founder Buzz Miller, left, with Scouts and carload of collected dog food.
PACT for Animals founder Buzz Miller, left, with Scouts and carload of collected dog food.

“The Boy Scouts present were able to earn their Disabilities Awareness Merit Badge and the Cub Scouts were able to earn a belt loop,” said Ernest. “I thank the Blinded Veterans Association, PACT (People + Animals = Companions Together) for Animals, and Officer Callahan from the Philadelphia K9 unit for supporting me with their presentations.”

Wanda actually arranged each of the presentations, inviting PACT founder Buzz Miller and the K9 officer. She also spoke to the Scouts herself on how veterans with vision loss can experience an enhanced quality of life after acquiring a trained guide dog.

PACT for Animals provides foster care for animals of individuals in need, particularly those being deployed or hospitalized. The organization works toward providing homes for companion animals that would otherwise be unwillingly surrendered to shelters because of a temporary military or medical crisis. It supports animal caregivers with other emergency needs such as food.