- Special Sections
- Public Notices
By Charmaine Smith-Miles
Anderson Independent Mail
ANDERSON, S.C. — When Bob Norris walks along East Greenville Street on Sunday mornings, he wears a pair of dark shades — no matter the weather — and always has Carmen, his yellow Labrador retriever, at his side.
Occasionally, as the traffic whizzes by, Bob will toss his hand up and give a wave to those rushing off to church, to work and to other destinations. He cannot see those he waves to, but he waves anyway. And he’s always wearing a small smile.
He waves, he says, to remind others that he knows they are there even if he cannot see them.
This is one of the routines that Bob and his trusted four-legged companion have. When the weather is sunny, they will walk from their home in the Holly Creek subdivision along S.C. 81 North to St. John’s United Methodist Church for the Sunday morning worship service. Always at Bob’s side, Carmen even joins her master at the communion rail and licks up the occasional crumb from his bread.
“We love to walk,” Bob said. “We walk four-and-a-half miles every day when the weather is good.”
The exercising keeps Bob, who has been through two back surgeries this year, energetic and lively.
It is one of the many things that has helped this retired Methodist minister not sink into depression when he realized at 63 years old that he was losing his eyesight and there was nothing he could do to stop it or slow it down.
And it is not just the exercise that keeps his spirits high.
“I have so many resources to draw on,” Bob said. “You are born to die, and all these complications are part of it. But I feel like life has been good to me.”
Indeed, he has had a busy life.
Bob, a 1957 graduate of D.W. Daniel High School in Central, was a pastor for 46 years and spent time teaching science in public schools. He and his wife, Margie, who have been married for 55 years, have raised four children, have 10 grandchildren and just welcomed their first great grandchild into the family two months ago.
He and Margie knew each other when they were babies. Their grandmothers lived across the street from one another. Eventually, when they grew older “they drifted together” since they attended the same church in Central.
They married after they finished high school. Bob went to Southern Wesleyan University and then went on to earn his master’s of divinity.
For years, while he worked as a pastor, and sometimes holding down another job at the same time, he also remained a student. He was always learning more.
He was the pastor at churches from Anderson to Oklahoma City.
While he was leading Shiloh United Methodist Church in Piedmont 20 years ago, he lost the sight in his left eye with absolutely no warning.
“I went to bed one night, and my eyes were fine,” Bob said. “The next morning, I woke and rubbed my eyes and things went blank. That was it.”
It took Bob a couple of hours that day in 1992 to realize that something was dreadfully wrong. At first, he thought his eyes were just tired from excessive reading and burning pine brush the day before.
After several visits to doctors, they finally diagnosed him with the ischemic optic neuropathy, a sudden event in which the nerves that send signals from his eyes to his brain die.
Doctors told him that there was no known cause or cure. And they also told him he would eventually lose the sight in his right eye. They just did not know when.
It took 12 years for him to lose sight in his right eye.
“In that 12 years, I emotionally prepared myself for the next step,” Bob said.
He began learning about how he could read and move around town without depending on Margie for everything.
And he is still learning, and doing.
In 2008, Bob learned how to work with Carmen, a dog trained by Guiding Eyes for the Blind School in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. He has learned how to use translators on computers so that now he can use the machines better than when he could see.
Bob also attends classes at the Anderson County Library, along with several other people who are blind, and learns how to read Braille, a system of raised dots on a page that translate into words. Last Tuesday, he was one of two people who came to the class.
He came with a book written in Braille, and several hymns — ones that he had sung at church the week before — written in Braille. Bob typed the hymns in Braille and was asking the class’s volunteer teacher, Carey Buris, to make sure they were correct.
“I want to learn how to read Braille so I can read the hymns while we sing them in church,” Bob said. “Most people who study Braille, study it as children. I don’t see how children can put it all in their minds.”
Not only is Bob still learning, he is still doing many of the things he did before he lost his sight. He still plays golf, reads as much now, if not more, than he did before. He still preaches on occasions and performs wedding ceremonies. And he serves as the secretary for his neighborhood’s homeowners association.
“I feel like life has been good to me,” he said. “The experiences of my life have given me a feast to draw on. I know what it is like to hold a baby, and to see a rose. Vision is just one of the senses. There are four others.”
Bob said he can do all of this because he is “surrounded by people,” especially his wife, who help in all sorts of ways. And he has Carmen.
It is that constant learning, a loving community of friends and family who surround him, and his faith that help keep that smile on his face as he walks.
“I know that whatever problem I have is temporary,” Bob said. “God can heal me immediately or he can take me immediately. I live every day with the expectation that I may see perfectly at the end of this day.”