He grew up on the other side of the state, a good athlete but an indifferent student. If he was smart, he didn’t know it. Then came the diagnosis – diabetes. Incurable, yes, but you can live with it, and he did.
After Somersworth High School, he worked at various jobs, construction mostly, and then the diabetes took a turn for the worse – diabetic retinopathy. He was losing his sight. That pretty much eliminated employment, at least what he had been doing.
The State offers help for anyone in such a predicament, and he took advantage by enrolling at Keene State. He spent a year there and made a discovery – he had a pretty good brain after all. But he was completely blind by then, and getting around in the country was difficult. The city has its drawbacks, but at least it has public transportation. So, now in his mid-20’s, he applied to Boston College. Three years later he graduated, with honors. “Going blind was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said later. “It opened my eyes.”
He entered Boston College Law School the next fall. When he arrived, an adviser suggested a reduced course load the first year. Law school is pretty daunting, even for those with 20-20 vision. “No way,” he said. I don’t want any favors, and I can handle it.”
By second year he was in the top third of the class. Mostly he read with the latest technology, machines that translate the written word into speech. He chose not to learn Braille. “Too slow.”
That’s where I come in. He was looking for a summer job between his second and third years, and I was in charge of hiring at my law firm. He and his seeing eye dog took the “T” into downtown Boston for an interview, and he told me about himself. I asked, “If it would take a seeing person an hour to figure out a legal problem, how long would it take you? “Fifty minutes,” he replied – the perfect answer to a dumb question.
He joined us for that summer, and a year later he came to work for the firm. He took an apartment on Beacon Hill so he could walk to work, another example of his remarkable courage. Have you ever tried to cross the street in downtown Boston? He worked hard, and his determination never waned, even in the face of a kidney transplant along the way. When the firm closed its doors, he came back to New Hampshire and practiced law in Concord. One of his specialties was healthcare law. Who could be better qualified?
He was tough as nails. He never sought sympathy, and he never felt sorry for himself. One time he told me, “If I could have my sight back, I wouldn’t take it.” I’m not sure why he felt that way, but I think it had to do with how full his life became after he lost what most of us take for granted.
Peter Callahan died, in Somersworth, on July 23. He was forty-two. Even a spirit as large as his could not overcome the ravages of diabetes. He was a dear friend. He was a noble son of New Hampshire. He will always be one of my heroes.