by Ali O. Lee, Vision Rehabilitation Therapist, formerly of the LightHouse of the North Coast
Guest author Ali O. Lee reflects on the life of Lois Willson, a LightHouse volunteer and leader in the blindness community since the 90s.
Lois Willson brought sunshine, humor, and positivity to any room. When she was newly diagnosed with Age-related Macular Degeneration, she and her husband Howard were integral to the LightHouse’s satellite operations on the North Coast. She helped facilitate low vision support groups in both Humboldt and Del Norte counties. In particular, they grew the Lighthouse’s Eureka Low Vision Support Group and renamed it “The Eyes Have It.”
Lois not only honestly shared her journey—adjusting to changes in her vision as she simultaneously adjusted to changes in her body due to aging and diabetes—but also connected people to community.
Together, Lois and Howard were a force, introducing people to the Humboldt Council of the Blind, making sensory toys with church members for babies who were blind and participating in LightHouse’s first “Changing Vision Changing Life” workshops on the North Coast. Lois believed in the potential of others, including creatures.
Later in life, she and Howard adopted a dog whose first act was to chew holes in the Styrofoam that comprised the back seat of their car when it wasn’t otherwise trying to escape. But, they continued to bring that darn dog in the car, anyway, as they reached out over many miles to support community members. To support the LightHouse’s low vision support groups, Lois and Howard traveled to remote Redway, Willow Creek, Fortuna, McKinleyville and Crescent City. They delivered radio receivers for the Reading Service of the Redwoods and local Lions Service Clubs.
Lois made herself available by phone and she referred people to services she herself used.
Lois received magnification training, sensory skills training, braille training, and Orientation and Mobility training from the LightHouse of the North Coast and the California Department of Rehabilitation. When she could benefit from it in her 80s, she readily adopted a white cane for independently navigating Eureka where she and Howard raised their children and volunteered for the Redwood Jazz Festival and adopted an elementary school classroom. She was rich in relationships, family and anecdotes.
From her cheerful yellow, Henderson Center house, Lois greeted neighbors and invited loved ones to join them in watching the annual Christmas Truckers Parade from their lawn. Rain or shine, Lois was vibrant and modeled resiliency in rural Humboldt County, California—where both she and Howard (but not the dog) are already missed.