Sir Arthur Pearson
Sir Arthur was born in Somerset. He had led a very full life before he went blind, and he was determined to continue to do so after his sight loss. His achievements had included creating his own company, C.Arthur Pearson Ltd, which published the seminal text of the scouting movement, Scouting for Boys, and magazines including Pearson’s Weekly. Pearson also became a newspaper proprietor and founded the Daily Express.
Pearson lost his sight as a result of glaucoma and in 1913 joined the Council of the then National Institute for the Blind (now the RNIB), later becoming its President. He had already been actively involved in charitable work including in 1892 founding the Fresh Air Fund, later Pearson’s Holiday Fund, which provided holidays and outings for disadvantaged children and young people.
Following the outbreak of the First World War, Pearson met with those who had returned home blinded; the increasing numbers of these led to the founding of Blind Veterans UK (initially as the Blinded Soldiers and Sailors Care Committee) in January 1915.
His vision was of a place where the men could adjust to their blindness, learn new practical and occupational skills (these included reading and writing Braille, typewriting, poultry farming, physiotherapy, basket making and telephony) and might enjoy a variety of social and sporting activities. After having spent time there, they would continue to receive ongoing support as needed in their family life and their careers. Pearson wrote of his plans that ‘I wanted them to be led to look upon blindness, not as an affliction, but as a handicap; not merely as a calamity, but as an opportunity.’
Pearson persuaded the businessman and philanthropist Otto Kahn to loan the charity his large property with extensive grounds in Regent’s Park, St Dunstan’s Lodge. The energy and enthusiasm Pearson brought to the charity helped to ensure that it soon became very well-known and garnered widespread support, including Royal patronage.
Pearson worked devotedly over the next few years to provide rehabilitation, training, care and ongoing support to the thousands of men (and some women) of this country and its allies who had lost their sight as a result of the war. Their own testimonies bear witness to how many of them found inspiration from Pearson’s own example to believe that an independent, successful and happy life after suddenly losing their sight was possible.
Created a baronet (1st Baronet of St Dunstan’s) in 1916 and awarded the G.B.E. in 1917, Sir Arthur died in a domestic accident in 1921. At his funeral in London nearly 1,500 blind veterans and hundreds of others came to pay tribute. Our current blind veterans honour his memory at a special service each year at his place of burial at Hampstead Cemetery.