by Gail Wilt
(Author’s Note: Thanks to Bob Williams for details of Barbara’s early life, gleaned from his 2014 article entitled “AzCB Presidents, A Legacy of Leadership,” which appeared in ForeSight, the newsletter of the Arizona Council of the Blind.)
On May 26, the meeting of the Central Arizona Council of the Blind opened at 10 a.m. as usual with a moment of silence. We were all sending positive energy to Barbara, who had been in St. Joseph’s Hospital for a couple of weeks with pneumonia. She had been in critical condition for a few days; but the last word we had heard was that she was improving and was back in a regular room. When we came to the point of the agenda for reports, we were missing her input for several items. About 15 minutes before the end of the meeting, we received news that Barbara had passed away that morning at 9:30. We were stunned. She had helped to organize the AzCB annual meeting, and attended it four weeks earlier.
A leader and an advocate, she was knowledgeable, hard-working, conscientious, and cheerful. She was a recipient of the Spirit of ABIL Award (from the Arizona Bridge to Independent Living, now Ability360). She kept us informed of what was going on nationally and locally. She showed up for everything.
Barbara Smith was born in Canada on April 20, 1945. Her family moved to Phoenix when she was 8. She graduated from St. Mary’s High. In 1967 she met Richard McDonald, a coworker at Bob’s Big Boy restaurant on Central Avenue. They married and moved to Chicago, where they lived for 23 years while raising their sons, Richard and Sean. Meanwhile, Barbara attended Northeastern Illinois University and graduated in 1981 with a degree in elementary education and a minor in math. She taught in the Catholic diocese 9 years. During that time, she developed kidney disease, and went on dialysis. The family moved back to Phoenix in 1990. In 1991 she started teaching third and fourth grade at Southwest, in the Roosevelt School District.
In 1995 Barbara received a kidney transplant. A viral infection attacked her immune system, resulting in her becoming legally blind that same year. With assistance from vocational rehabilitation, she was able to continue teaching. She retired in 2006, having taught a total of 22 years.
Barbara learned of the Arizona Council of the Blind in 1996, and joined immediately after attending its state convention that May. She was elected AzCB board secretary in 1997, and served in that position until 2007, when she became first vice president. She served as president from 2008 to 2010. In 2008 she and her husband started attending the ACB national conventions. In 2010 the ACB 49th annual conference and convention was held in Phoenix; Barbara chaired the host planning committee. She continued serving on the board as a director until her passing. She also served for years with AzCB’s Phoenix chapter in various positions, including president – always as a key member. She held the chapter together the past several years, as membership and donations declined. She fostered the merging of the Maricopa Club and the Phoenix chapter, creating the Central Arizona Council of the Blind – which has revived the AzCB scene in the Phoenix area. In addition, she participated in several cross-disability organizations. She was good at keeping meetings on track, and remembering details that might have been overlooked. She was a teacher to the end!
Eventually Barbara lost all her physical vision, and much of her hearing. She also developed a balance problem, among other physical challenges. As her son Sean emphasized at her memorial service, she was resilient. A scholarship has been set up in her honor. It will be available to assist with advancing the education of a high-school student who is living with an organ transplant, or experiencing visual impairment or hearing impairment, and is demonstrating resilience – “… the capacity to recover from adversities ...” It is called the Barbara A. McDonald Resilience Award. It is being set up on the Dollars for Scholars website. Checks are preferred, since a fee is deducted from contributions made online. Checks may be made out to “Tempe Dollars for Scholars,” with “Barbara A. McDonald” in the memo section. Send donations to Sean McDonald, 6460 S. Black Hills Way, Chandler, AZ 85249.
At her service, Sean shared the following story that Barbara told him: A teenage boy was in the kitchen complaining about his lot in life. His mother got out 3 pots and filled them with water. She put carrots in one, eggs in the second, and coffee beans in the third. She boiled them for 20 minutes. Next, she cooled the carrots and eggs in cold water, and put them in bowls. She poured the liquid from the pot of boiled coffee beans into another bowl, letting it cool for a while. Then she asked her son what she had. He sullenly replied, “Carrots, eggs and coffee beans.” Then she asked him to feel the carrots, and he observed that they were soft. She asked him to crack an egg, which had hardened. Then she had him sip from the third bowl, which contained aromatic coffee. Finally, she asked him to think about how he would prefer to deal with difficulties – being weakened by them, being hardened by them, or transforming them into a worthwhile outcome.
Barbara was one of a kind!