Like a skier without legs or a tennis player without arms, Stan Hardison is an author of five novels and former commercial artist whose sight was greatly diminished by macular degeneration.
In fact, he can’t see anything but a blur straight ahead, although he still has peripheral vision. Hardison can no longer paint, draw or drive. He couldn’t write, either, but with help from the N.C. Division of Services for the Blind in Greenville, he has been able recently to see the words he types on his computer.
“It came out almost overnight,” he said about the blindness, “when I realized something was wrong.”
There are two kinds of macular degeneration, and Hardison said he has the dry, or untreatable, type. He takes medication to keep it from getting worse.
Hardison, 80, grew up on a farm in Newport and discovered early on he had a talent in drawing. No sooner had he graduated, he was drafted into the U.S. Army.
Following his discharge, he attended the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, Fla., and married Shirley Byrd of Kinston. The couple had twin girls, Debbie and Diane.
Hardison landed his first job as a commercial artist at an advertising agency in Norfolk, Va. From there, his career took off. He worked as an art director at another Norfolk agency and eventually worked on the U.S. Army Recruiting Command account through a New York City agency where he designed and directed advertising for television, radio and print.
In 1966, he became the art director and writer for the U.S. Air Force’s monthly safety magazine, TAC Attack, at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va. He also designed for Combat Edge, which is distributed to all the military branches.
Hardison was given free rein to design illustrations and pages. He also wrote short stories.
He created the Fleagle comic strip about a silly bird that couldn’t do anything right. The bird became a recognizable symbol for the Air Force for years.
In the late 1970s, his manager at Langley encouraged to write about World War II, so he started a novel, “Gardens of Brookside.” It was a story about a fictitious farming family and was based on the eras he knew about — World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
It took 15 years of first writing and then numerous rejection letters before it was published in 2011.
But in 1990, after nearly 40 years of drawing comics, he retired, no longer able to paint portraits or draw illustrations. He wrote four more books — a detective series on a character named Jess Hambrick — during the next few years. The last book published this year. But the words on his computer eventually faded away, as did any writing that wasn’t big and bold. And then he stopped writing.
A friend told him the Lions Club could help him. A counselor came to his Kinston home and installed a program that allows him to magnify what he types into the computer. Hardison also has a special keyboard with yellow keys and black writing.
“They figured it out,” he said, “black on yellow keys is easiest to see.”
Hardison is also color-blind — he only sees shades of brown.
Last year, he took some classes offered locally through the Greenville office to learn basic skills for the blind.
“To tell you the truth,” Hardison said, “I really felt guilty going because most of the people were completely blind.”
Watching and listening to others who saw much less than he did or nothing at all was inspiring.
“They had gone on with their lives,” Hardison said, “and they were perfectly fine.”
He hadn’t written a book for more than six months. But with the new technology, he wrote his fifth detective book, “Misplaced Vengeance,” which is expected to be released in November.
Hardison is currently working on his seventh book, “The Dirt Farmer,” which is about the descendants of the family in the first book up to the present day.
He said he is thankful to be able to continue to write, but misses the art.
“It was something that I always wanted to do,” he said. “But I really didn’t feel cheated because I had done what I wanted to do — the commercial art.”
Anyone who is blind or knows someone who is blind and interested in getting assistance to use a computer, can call the N.C. Division of Services for the Blind. In Lenoir and Greene counties, call the Greenville office in 252-355-9016. In Jones County, call 910-251-5743.