Blind man helps promote use of guide dogs across the country

By: Ray Reed

Life changed abruptly for Bill Hadden 38 years ago, when a stroke took away his vision.

Until then, he had a successful career in the insurance business.

Since then, the Lynchburg resident has traveled over much of North America as a Lions Club ambassador who promotes the use of guide dogs for people who are blind.

“I didn’t deal with it very well early on,” Hadden said, because he was suddenly unemployed and had three children to educate. “It was kind of a devastating situation,” said Hadden, who was 46 at the time.

But now, at 84, Hadden hands out his business cards in pairs, held together with a clothespin inscribed with “make a difference.”

He travels about 80,000 miles a year, telling prospective users of guide dogs what it takes to rely on the dogs and work with them.

He’s also working to set up a local vision and hearing event the Brookville-Timberlake Lions Club is sponsoring, with a mobile sight and hearing unit that will visit Brookville Middle School and Sam’s Club on Oct. 25.

The next day, the mobile unit will set up at a health fair at the Templeton Senior Center at 225 Wiggington Road.

The club is hoping to screen about 300 children at the school for possible vision and hearing problems, Hadden said.

“We’re very excited about it,” he said.

When Hadden travels across the continent, he flies alone except for his current guide dog, a yellow Labrador named Godiva.

Hadden and his wife, Jackie – he calls her Saint Jackie – live in the Graves Mill Road neighborhood.

He credits the Brookville-Timberlake Lions Club with helping him find a door to his future, first by helping him to get his own guide dog and then setting him on to a new career as an advisor for Guiding Eyes, a dog school in Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

“I was sponsored by the club to receive a dog,” Hadden said.

Even with the club’s backing, getting his first dog was no easy task.  An evaluator told him he wasn’t a good candidate for learning to work with a dog, but Hadden persevered and received his first dog, named Syracuse, in 1974. He’s had five more dogs since then.

“I’ve had one wife and six dogs,” Hadden quips. “God has been good to us.”

He needed almost two years to come to grips with losing his vision.

“I was wallowing around in self-pity,” he said, but eventually decided “I had better deal with it.”

He went to a rehabilitation program where he met people who had been blind since birth, who had never known the freedom of driving a car, and had never seen the blue of a robin’s egg.

He decided he could do something despite his own situation.

He has since been chairman of every committee in the local Lion’s club, and received the Lions Club International’s highest award, the ambassador of good will, in at a gathering of 2,000 Lions Club members 1992.

“I had no clue I was being considered for that,” Hadden said. “I had come there to talk about the dog school.”

“It was certainly overwhelming.”