An Accidental Artist

Jeffrey Owen Hanson (1993-2020)
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Read Time8 Minute, 56 Second

Several months ago, I watched a news story about a legally-blind young man, who was really amazing.  He is an accidental artist, and although I am not an authority on art, his art inspires me.

And here’s why.

Jeff Hanson was born on September 30, 1993, with a genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis and then became visually impaired from a brain tumor at age 12.

As I watched his story on television, I compared his life to what mine was like when I was 12 years old, and I had the “whole world ahead of me.”

I also remembered that children could be callous to each other – especially when you didn’t fit in because of being ‘different.’

Kids can be like that – if you didn’t look or act like them – you could never hope to be in their ‘social circle.’

Little Danny did not get bullied often, but when he did, it really hurt, and I would wish that I could have been born meaner or tougher – so I could fight back.

So, I can only imagine the cruelty or nastiness that Jeff may have felt from others.  But I don’t know if he had ever been bullied or not.  It’s just speculation on my part.

As a blind teenager, he must have faced a tough decision:  surrender to a life of blindness or fight to lead a full and meaningful life.

But it is difficult to overcome the many obstacles and limitations that exist for the blind.

Jeff Hanson had more strength of character as a 12-year-old than most adults.

As I watched the news story about Jeff Hanson, I was impressed at what he decided to do with his life – to become an artist!

He began painting note cards and then selling them at the end of his parents’ driveway.

Passersby were impressed by his talent, and soon, Jeff was selling the note cards as quickly as he painted them.

Jeff had a slogan, part of which was:

Focus on what you CAN do, and not on what you CAN’T do!

The next thing he did was create paintings in the basement of the family home and then send them to various charities – to be auctioned at fundraisers.

He donated the money he raised to The Children’s Tumor Foundation.

At age 15, he incorporated his business and hired his parents (dad is a physician and mother is in marketing) and began donating his art to various charities around the country to support his vision, which was:

Changing the world through Art

By his 20 birthday, he had raised $1 Million for charity.

Sadly, on December 20, 2020, Jeff passed away at the age of 27, after raising $6.5 Million for charity – from his note card creations!

When his death was announced on the evening news, I ordered some of his note card creations from his website two days later.

I received the order two weeks ago, and I’ve been planning to write about this warrior ever since.

The cards come six to a package.

They are all beautiful works of art, and I can hardly wait to send them to my friends on special occasions.

Here’s a link to Jeff Hanson’s website

Here’s a link to CBS Television about Jeff Hanson

I hope you will visit Jeff’s website and read his story.  The cards are on display, and there are photos of Jeff painting his masterpieces.

And if you still send stuff by snail mail – why not consider sending your everyday cards as Jeff Hanson cards?

Your friends will be impressed!

********

I have only known a few blind people, but the most recent was Mary, a walker I met when walking with the Vancouver ‘Venturers Walking Club.

We were walking in Vancouver’s downtown core, and each of us took turns as guides for Mary as we walked around the busy streets.

When it was my chance to walk with her, I asked her about her blindness.

Mary said that she was born without sight because of a condition that wasn’t uncommon at the time.

It was only after the walk that I learned how active Mary’s life has been.

She is an accomplished musician and currently plays violin with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

Mary also belongs to a group of blind cyclists.

My Grandma Puffer used to remind me of a wise saying:

I had no shoes and complained, until I met a man who had no feet. 

I haven’t seen Mary for a couple of years but hope that I’ll be able to see her again one day.

She, too, has been an inspiration to me.

********

And there are three more people who continue to inspire me.

They are Terry, Rick, and Sam.

Terry Fox needs no introduction.

I lived in Oshawa, Ontario, when Terry was running across Canada to raise cancer funds in his Marathon of Hope Run.

After Terry’s passing, I ran in the first Terry Fox Run to commemorate him.

Terry Fox Walk – 2016

I have walked the annual Terry Fox Run for several years here in Langley, BC.

********

In the late ’80s, I was president of the Jericho Sailing Centre in Vancouver.

I had been on the board of directors for the previous two years and then served as president for two years.

I had to resign during my second term when I was transferred to Atlantic Canada by my employer, General Motors.

It was late one evening when a few of my fellow directors and I went to a pub after a board meeting.

We were regulars at Jerry’s Cove, the pub on 4th Avenue and knew most of the staff.

And on that evening in 1988, I noticed that Rick Hansen was sitting at a table with a few of his friends.

I had followed Rick as he wheeled himself around the world in his Man In Motion World Tour (1985) wheelchair to raise awareness and funds for spinal cord injuries.

Rick Hansen’s World of Motion Tour in 1985

I got up and walked over to his table and excused myself for intruding, but I wanted to say hello and tell him how much I admired him.

Rick told me not to worry – and he asked me what my friends and I were doing.

I explained that we had just been at a board meeting at the sailing club and dropped in for a beer or two.

Rick’s eyes lit up, and he explained that when he was in the UK, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had presented him with a sailboat designed for people with paraplegia.

But the boat had been sitting in storage at some farm in the Lower Mainland, ever since.

And then my eyes lit up, and I asked him if he would be interested in learning how to sail.

Rick said that he had someone in mind which he thought would be perfect.  And he said that he would get the person to call me at home.

Rick also told me the fellow’s name – it was Sam Sullivan.

We said our goodbyes, and within minutes, my fellow directors and I were discussing the exciting news.

A few days later, I arranged to meet with Sam at the sailing club.

Sam arrived in an older van.

It took him several minutes to get out of the vehicle, and then we did a tour of the sailing center.

Sam has quadriplegia, and I could not imagine how he would ever manage sailing alone.

But Sam and I were soon talking about starting a sailing club for physically challenged people.

Later that year, I was transferred to Halifax and said goodbye to sailing, the sailing center, and my new friend, Sam Sullivan.

At my going away party in June 1989, Sam Sullivan presented me with a gift. He later served on the board and then ran for public office.
Sam overcame obstacles that most people can’t even imagine. I am so happy to have him as a friend.

Sail Able is the name of the club, and it is still thriving today.

Sam Sullivan became a member of the board of directors.

He later became a member of the Vancouver Parks Board and then later served as the mayor of Vancouver.

Sam and I attended the tenth anniversary of Sail Able shortly after my return to Vancouver in 1997.

I bet there were people along the way that did not think Sam would ever achieve his goals.

But he did, and I am so proud of him!

********

In closing, we all face challenges of one sort or another.

Self-pity can be replaced by hope and sweat, just like my heroes Jeff Hanson, Rick Hansen, Terry Fox, Mary, and Sam Sullivan.

Each of them refused to let their physical challenges define them.

And I am sure that if I knew your story – you would become a hero to me, too!

But if you are my friend – you’re already my hero!

Dedicated to the memory of Jeffrey Owen Hanson

I hope my stories are a gift to your head and heart.

Hugs,

Danny

Click on this Index to view my 210+ stories.

Today’s tunes from Danny’s library (purchased):

You Needed Me – lyrics.

I cried a tear, you wiped it dry
I was confused, you cleared my mind
I sold my soul, you bought it back for me
And held me up and gave me dignity
Somehow you needed me

You gave me strength to stand alone again
To face the world out on my own again
You put me high upon a pedestal
So high that I could almost see eternity
You needed me, you needed me

And I can’t believe it’s you
I can’t believe it’s true
I needed you and you were there
And I’ll never leave, why should I leave?
I’d be a fool ’cause I finally found someone who really cares

You held my hand when it was cold
When I was lost you took me home
You gave me hope when I was at the end
And turned my lies back into truth again
You even called me “friend”

You gave me strength to stand alone again
To face the world out on my own again
You put me high upon a pedestal
So high that I could almost see eternity
You needed me, you needed me

You needed me, you needed me

Songwriters: Randy Goodrum
You Needed Me lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Miranda Millsap D/B/A Ironside Music

About Post Author

Daniel (Danny) St. Andrews

An almost famous Film, Television & Stage Actor (as in almost pregnant) living in Vancouver, BC His other passions include cancer patient advocate (he had stage 3 throat cancer), walking with the Vancouver 'Venturers Walking Club, and of course, spoiling his dog, Holly Golightly. If you like the stuff he writes about - please leave a hug (or a comment).
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By Daniel (Danny) St. Andrews

An almost famous Film, Television & Stage Actor (as in almost pregnant) living in Vancouver, BC His other passions include cancer patient advocate (he had stage 3 throat cancer), walking with the Vancouver 'Venturers Walking Club, and of course, spoiling his dog, Holly Golightly. If you like the stuff he writes about - please leave a hug (or a comment).

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