Post by Nikita Singhal
After more than 40 years of service to the blindness field, much of it with the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Fran Weisse is retiring.
Fran attended the University of Connecticut, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English (I can assure you that if there is a split infinitive in this piece Fran will find it). She fell into her first job at MABVI in 1970—“My roommate got married and I took her job.” But soon she was at the heart of MABVI’s Community Services, and the people of the blindness community were entangled with hers. Literally. The soon-to-be-renamed Fran Alexander met Joe Weisse at MABVI’s Worcester office.
By 1978 she was the Director of Community Services, which in reality meant taking on a medley of jobs. As the retail store manager she bought and sold appliances designed specifically for visually impaired individuals. As the volunteer coordinator she trained fresh-to-the-field volunteers to help blind individuals with essential routine tasks. As the information and referral specialist, she was the first to be contacted when questions arose about how to live daily life with vision loss. The list goes on and on.
In addition to her substantial contributions to MABVI, Fran worked with several other organizations over the years. At the Institute for Scientific Research she developed a curriculum about blind and visually impaired individuals to teach ophthalmologists in training. With Resources for Rehabilitation, she advocated for the needs of those with disabilities, providing training for both professionals and the general public. She also provided referral services for customers and professionals as the I&R Director of VISION Foundation, Inc.
When VISION merged with MAB in 1998, Fran’s professional journey came full circle and she was soon the Assistant Regional Director of the newly enlarged MABVI, administering the Vision Rehabilitation Program, Volunteer Services and the Peer Empowerment Support Group Program. In recent years her favorite day of the year was the annual Senior Connection, a day-long conference where experts in the field of vision loss and aging gather to engage in discussions with senior support group members. For the past seven years, Fran has served as the Greater Boston Regional Director for MABVI.
Fran has seen more offices, mergers, boards, name changes, and strategic plans than I—or probably she—can count. Through it all, she never wavered—her commitment was to people who thought they had nowhere to turn, until they found Fran. Her great gift was to know which questions to ask to get to the heart of the matter, and then to know the answers. Her longtime friend Carolyn Parker says, “Fran’s role has changed, but her devotion and empathy to those who need services remained constant.”
A published author and go-to expert, she’s been recognized and lauded by other professional organizations for her contributions. She’s an integral part of MABVI and its history and with her retirement a special part of our institutional memory will be gone. To honor her, MABVI is creating a commemorative history exhibit that will be named for her. Her years of commitment and effort will not be forgotten.