Celebrating Fran Weisse

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 with members of her support groupFran 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.

Fran having a discussion with co-workersBy 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 Fran walking with blind and visually impaired individualsto 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.

Fran at the 19th Senior ConnectionWhen 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 out for a meal with workFran 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. Fran at her retirement partyShe’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.

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About mabvi

Pressing Need The number of seniors with low vision is expected to double by 2030, as the “baby boomers” experience sight loss such as glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration. Low vision makes it difficult to complete activities of daily living, puts elders at increased risk of falls, and complicates health care compliance. There is a pressing need for low vision services today more than ever, to ensure people with vision loss can continue to live the lives they want. Elders are the fastest-growing and most vulnerable population of persons with sight loss. Four of the five major causes of blindness are directly related to the aging process: age related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and cataracts. According to data published by the Commission for the Blind and the National Society for the Prevention of Blindness, there are an estimated 105,000 elders in Massachusetts with serious sight loss who cannot receive state-funded services because they are not “legally blind.” Nevertheless, their vision impairment is serious, and without appropriate intervention, can have a devastating impact on their independence.

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