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Article on Bro. Gibney in the AZ Republic

Blind devotion to Suns, love and life

Dan Bickley
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 19, 2006 12:00 AM

Bill Gibney looks you straight in the eye. It’s a nifty trick for
someone who has been blind for 51 years.

Oh, but he doesn’t see it that way. And either way, he’s a little
busy at the moment, thank you.

He’s standing at his seat in the US Airways Center, clapping with the
rest of the crowd. He’s got Al McCoy coming through an earphone in
his right ear. He’s got his wife in the other ear, and she’s taking
color commentary to a new level.

“Honey, you should see the cleavage on the dancers,” Cheryl Parker begins.

Sit back. You haven’t heard anything yet.

“As far as I’m concerned, I can still see because I can still
visualize things,” Gibney said. “Most blind people don’t do that.”

Gibney, 59, is a die-hard Suns fan. He has a room dedicated to the
team at his beautiful Phoenix home. He has a beautiful wife, a former
television news anchor. He has everything a man could want, and it’s
a shame he can’t see any of it.

Gibney has been legally blind since age 8 and completely blind since
college. He suffers from Sticklers syndrome, a hereditary disease
that affects the retinas and which afflicted three other members of
his immediate family.

His sister, father and uncle all regained their vision after surgery,
but young Bill’s lights went out and never came back on.

“It happened at such a young age that it just wasn’t a big deal,”
Gibney said. “Besides, I’ve always had a lot of drive. I’ve always
been real active. You either sit around feeling sorry for yourself or
you go on. I went on.”

That’s an understatement. Today, Gibney works full time as a sole
practitioner of law (estate planning). He loves to ski, play
blackjack and go on European vacations. He nearly died in a Greek
subway last year, and is currently on his sixth guide dog, Alibi.

The last one was so well traveled that it had its own passport.

“He’ll tell people things like, ‘I saw the Cardinals game last
night,’ ” Cheryl said. “They’re like, ‘No, you didn’t. You didn’t see
anything.’ ”

Oh, how wrong they are.

“First of all, I think I did see it because I know sports so well,”
Gibney said. “I understand the game so well that I do visualize them.
And, besides, what am I supposed to say? That I heard the Cardinals
game last night? That just doesn’t sound right.”

Whatever the hardship, Gibney won’t go down quietly. Even if he knew
pity, he wouldn’t have the time.

He graduated from the University of Arizona in 1969. He graduated
from law school in 1972. He is a season-ticket holder for the Suns.
He opens the front door all by himself.

And then there are the rare times when a blind man finds it necessary
to get behind the wheel of an automobile.

“He’s driven a few times,” Cheryl said.

A love scene:

“I don’t know if this is fit for publication, but we got married in
Kauai (in 1990),” Cheryl said. “At our rehearsal dinner the night
before, I drank a little too much. We were staying 30 miles away. As
we were leaving, I said, ‘I don’t think I should be driving. You drive.’ ”

Naturally daring and equally rebellious, Gibney was happy to oblige.

“I’m telling him where to go, helping him along. We get a mile out of
town and I turn around,” Cheryl continued. “There was a cop following
us. We’re on these winding roads, and even though I wasn’t really
drunk, we couldn’t just stop and switch drivers. What am I going to
do, drag a blind guy out of the driver’s seat?”

Bill: “What we should’ve done is stop and pretended that I was blind drunk.”

Somehow, the two got back without any legal incident. They were
married the next day.

Bill: “We really believe if you’re drinking, you shouldn’t be driving.”

Those who know Gibney marvel at his attitude, his zest for living.
Other than the guide dog and a caller ID service that speaks the
incoming numbers, he makes few concessions to blindness.

“He’s a really interesting, engaging, talented guy,” said a neighbor,
Bob Casselman. “The first Suns game we ever went to together, he was
telling me what was going on.”

Like everything else, it comes with practice.

Gibney lost his sight at a cruel age, when he was just a boy. A phone
call came from the teacher. A concerned mother asked him to read a
passage from Dumbo the Flying Elephant. Then asked him to read the
clock on the wall.

There was nothing to see and nothing to say.

“My retinas would fall out of place, so I couldn’t see,” Gibney said.
“I was a dumb little kid, so I thought I just had dirt in my eyes.
I’d go over, splash water in my eyes, and when I’d bend over, the
retinas would fall back in place. I’d stand up and I could see for a
little while. But obviously I had a big problem.”

The next morning, Bill was in the doctor’s office, beginning his long
and fruitless medical quest.

Over the next six years, Gibney underwent 10 surgeries. Along the
way, he developed an indomitable spirit that would define the rest of his life.

“When I went to the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind (in
Tucson), we were all kind of helpless there,” Gibney said. “It was
really pitiful. They really held you back. They had this great big
pool at the school, and I was the only one that could swim. That’s
when I noticed, ‘I don’t belong here.’ ”

Gibney’s parents recognized it, too. They formed the Scottsdale
Foundation for Blind Children, which eventually became the Foundation
for Blind Children in Phoenix, now the largest blind children’s
agency in the United States.

Bill’s focus became assimilation into the sighted world, and by the
time Gibney reached sixth grade, he became the first blind child in
the United States to return to a public school.

With extremely limited sight, Gibney threw himself into the action.

If receivers clapped their hands downfield, Gibney could be your
quarterback. He’d place a white rag, which was bright enough for him
to make out, over a bar and attempt a high jump. In the eighth grade,
he played center on an organized football team.

When he could see the vague outline of a backboard, he would shoot
toward the middle and hope.

He’d easily risk embarrassment for the love of sport, the love of competition.

“The advantage I had over someone born blind is that they can’t
visualize,” Gibney said. “You can’t put a building in their hands. Or
a tree. Or colors. I knew what colors looked like. That helped me be normal.”

Later in life, Gibney co-founded the National Beep Baseball
Association. Beep ball is softball with a twist: the
16-inch-circumference ball has a beeper in it.

“As a kid, I just had to push my way in,” Gibney said. “And I had to
let them know it was OK. I taught them to laugh about my blindness. I
made jokes about my blindness.

“I didn’t want to be treated like this weirdo, like a monkey in the
zoo. Even today, I don’t want to be known as a blind attorney. I’m an
attorney, and some people don’t know I’m blind. And that’s the way I want it.”

Another love story:

Cheryl met Bill during an on-camera interview. As an anchor for
Channel 12, she was known for her ability to make subjects weep. But
she had never interviewed anyone like Gibney.

“I fell in love with him that night,” Parker said.

Apparently, it happened all the time.

“Through the years, I’ve met a couple dozen of his girlfriends,”
Parker said. “They’re all gorgeous.”

Gibney admits he has had a little help in this department.

“I’ve had great guide dogs,” he said. “And they’re all chick magnets.”

Cheryl laughs. “Can’t you tell that we’re still madly in love?” she says.

Of course, recklessness has its perils, and Gibney has the bumps and
bruises to prove it.

Bill is so good at appearing not blind that, early in their
relationship, his wife often walked him into signposts and walls. And
to this day, the dishwasher still gets him every time.

But nothing was like the nasty spill he took getting off a subway in
Greece last fall, when he fell between the space separating the
platform and the train.

“The train goes automatically every seven seconds,” Cheryl said. “I
was sure that he was gone.”

Three men jumped off the train and saved him from certain death.

“Truth is, we were arguing over where we needed to get off, and we
weren’t paying attention,” Gibney says. “And what’s really maddening
is, I was right.”

Besides, for this guy, life is all about risk and reward. And for
Gibney, anything beats the sedentary life, the death sentence of
sitting in a chair all day. Unless, of course, there’s a really big
game on television.

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