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Another side of Paul

By Diana Brent

As most of you are aware, we sadly lost a long-time member and supporter of the Alliance For Equality of Blind Canadians — Paul Thiele, who passed away in early December last year, after being ill for some time. Those of you who have been connected with AEBC since its beginnings, will know Paul as an organizer, a worker bee, a doer, a strong advocate for the blind community, a good friend of John Rae, and possibly of you as well.


My connection with Paul is from a much earlier era in the early 1970’s where he was a lifeline for blind and partially sighted students attending the University of British Columbia. He was the head of the Charles Crane Memorial Library, named after a deafblind man who left his sizeable collection of braille materials to the University after his passing. This was before organized centres providing services for students with any kind of special needs were commonplace and it was not those braille books we were after--though if any of them had been on my course list, I’d have snapped them up in a heartbeat.


Crane was a safe and friendly place to congregate and complain about our professors, the work load, and getting lost on campus. It was also where we enjoyed many Christmas and end-of-year parties. Did I mention Crane was a lifeline? It truly was, for as part of the library’s services, Paul had organized an army of student volunteers who would spend their free hours on campus at Crane recording novels and the course textbooks we so desperately needed for our studies. At that time, our only hope of managing the print information we needed to access was by using volunteer or paid readers. Scanners did not exist; computers were large mainframes housed in their own climate-controlled spaces, and any braille textbooks, which often didn’t arrive until after the course was over, were hand-transcribed by volunteers using a Perkins Brailler. Paul’s volunteer readers recorded our books on large seven-inch reels of tape, that we listened to in our dorm rooms and then returned to the library. We often took our exams at Crane as well, first writing them in braille, then copying them in print for the professors using a manual typewriter.


Paul and his first wife, Judy, who happened to be a librarian, ran Crane smoothly and efficiently. Paul was a wonderful mentor and friend — he had experienced the challenges of being a university student with partial sight just a few years earlier himself. His work and his commitment to the blind student community, definitely factored into my success in graduating with my music degree in 1974. More importantly however, because of the Crane Library, and Paul’s army of readers, I found my future husband, and in November, we will have been happily married for 48 years.


Thank you so much Paul.

ALT IMAGE TEXT: Image of Paul Thiele in the Crane Library standing by a shelf of books.


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