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They Didn't Seem to Know They Were Blind

What One RiverDell Resident Learned Growing Up With Two Remarkable Parents

Decades ago Thomas Kehoe met Josephine, the love of his life, at the Lighthouse, an organization whose goal is to promote " the independence, equality and self-reliance of people who are blind or visually impaired." They were married and together successfully raised five children.

Anyone who has ever met their daughter, Denise Kehoe, RiverDell resident and Director of , is aware that she brings an uncannily intuitive and caring sensibility to her work.

"As a child and then later as a teenager I never felt in any way, shape or form that my parents were anything BUT able-bodied," Denise Kehoe says. "I knew they were blind, of course, but I was in my early thirties before I realized how very unique and wonderful my parents really were."

Her father Thomas supported his family with a full-time job at a steel mill. "He understood electricity," Ms. Kehoe recalls. "He understood tools and how to make things. Some of the products he helped create were eventually used in the construction of the George Washington Bridge."

His laborious daily commute to and from work required two buses and one subway train each way. Mr. Kehoe left the house at 6 AM in the morning and returned home at 6 PM in the evenings.

Did his family worry about the infinite calamities that might befall a sightless man out and about in the workforce each day? "There was no reason to," Denise Kehoe answers thoughtfully. "I knew both of my parents to be totally capable adults, just as any of my friend's sighted parents were."

There was only one time when she was frightened for her father's well-being. The news reported that a "blind man" had fallen into the subway tracks and had been killed. Denise Kehoe held her breath until 6 PM, when her father walked through the front door of their home. It wasn't him.

"My parents did exactly what parents are supposed to do," Ms. Kehoe says. "They worked. They had interests. My mother read everything; books of all kinds, magazines. She always had and still has an intellectual curiosity about the world. She learned to play the piano beautifully, by ear."

In addition Josephine Kehoe did what all the other mothers did: she shopped for groceries, cooked, made sure homework got done, tracked her children's activities and according to her daughter Denise, "kept our home impeccably clean."

Caring for and educating five children is no simple matter when you're sighted, but Josephine and Thomas Kehoe managed their responsibilities with admirable grace. "They were self-sufficient," Denise Kehoe says of her parents. "I never felt like it was my job to help them. Plus, they gave us kids the confidence to go out into the world, to work, to DO."

Thomas and Josephine Kehoe were ham radio operators in their spare time, both having been certified on the highest international level of radio qualifications. Clearly blindness did not impede on their communications with the world.

Or with their children.

Imagine having to meet the needs of a small child without having visual cues as a guide. Or having to intuit the shifting emotional needs of an adolescent without ever being able to glimpse their facial expressions.

"They knew and understood each of us very well," Denise Kehoe nods. "They let us try things, have experiences and develop into who we were meant to be. They listened to who we were and respected us."

Sadly, Thomas Kehoe has passed away but Josephine Kehoe is going strong at nearly 90. Together she and her husband never flinched in the face of their responsibilities. Instead they gave their family protection, support and love.

"My parents made me feel so secure in the world," Denise Kehoe says with a smile. "I try to bring that to my work at Stepping Stone. When there's an issue I want to make things right so that the parents of the children in my care can feel secure."

That's the thing about parents like Thomas and Josephine Kehoe; long after their jobs have been completed, their good work continues to ripple out into the world.

jeanette February 23, 2011 at 10:55 PM
This is a beautiful article! I love, love, love Ms. Denise and trusted her with the care of my only son for four years of his six years of life. She made me feel secure and that my child was in the most capable of hands. That means the world to a nervous nilly mother of one, like myself. She helped me relax while my son was nurtured in a great environment at Stepping Stones. Thank you for sharing part of what makes you such an awesome individual. I am sure that there are scores of other parents who feel the same admiration and gratitude as I do. Thank you Andrea for highlighting one of our great River Edge citizens. Jeanette
M March 16, 2011 at 12:20 AM
River Edge is blessed to have Ms. Denise as the loving director of Stepping Stone. She handles each days challenges with wisdom and grace. She is a true credit to her parents and family.
Andrea Kahn March 16, 2011 at 02:04 AM
She is my hero....
CHERYL March 16, 2011 at 04:11 AM
It now makes sense that such a wonderful caring woman came from parents of the same. Ms. Denise took care of both of my boys before they headed off to Kindergarten. We and River Edge is lucky to have her. Thanks Ms. Denise
Arleen March 23, 2011 at 07:58 PM
Absolutely agree! Ms. Denise is the best!

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