Helen Keller and AFOB

At a Glance: 

Jansen Noyes looks back upon the powerful interest and enthusiasm Helen Keller contributed to the expansion of what is now Helen Keller International in the first few years of its conception. 

 

Jansen Noyes, Jr., Treasurer, President, and Chairman, successively, of HKI Board of Trustees, 1947 – 1992.
January 14, 1993   

I met Helen [Keller] at the American Foundation for the Blind when she wasn’t traveling, which she did for two or three months at a time every two or three years. She used to come quite regularly into the Foundation and meet with [its President] Bob Barnett. I had quite a number of meetings with Helen in those days at the Foundation, usually just the two of us, and we would discuss what the AFB was doing, and what it should be doing and so forth.

Helen Keller with blind and deafblind children

New Zealand, 1948

The AFB, in that period of time, was of course in its primary activity, with substantial staff and programs; whereas AFOB [American Foundation for the Overseas Blind, now Helen Keller International] was only in its early two or three years, getting organized and trying to spend money, and finding it could spend $20,000 - $40,000 a year. Most of our discussions would be on the AFB although, obviously, she had an interest, particularly as we got to the point of changing from Europe to the developing countries in South America, Africa and Asia.

 



Helen’s and my conversations would more likely run that way. In later years, I used to meet with Helen at her home in Westport and she would regularly talk about all the people she knew abroad. She didn’t like [French President Charles] DeGaulle at all; I think it was because he was quite arrogant. She did like [Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel] Nasser, as I recall. She seemed to like most of the presidents of the United States whom she had met. She had met all of them… She was a fascinating woman, with tremendously broad interests and a tremendously outgoing and happy personality… She was in her late 60s then, when I first met her. She never seemed as old as she was. Her ideas were young and her enthusiasms were the enthusiasms of a younger person. It had been a long time since she had taken any speech therapy and it was not easy in the first ten or fifteen minutes in the conversation to understand what she said. But after that initial period, each time, you became accustomed to it and it became quite easy to follow what she was saying and to have a conversation that was pleasant and reasonably active, and almost always of considerable substance.