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Archive for Sunday, November 27, 2005

Hardship not new for Katrina survivor

Marshall Whitty has faced struggles with eyesight, Jim Crow laws

November 27, 2005

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— His real name is Marshall Whitty, but he answers to "The Godfather."

Whitty, 65, is a self-proclaimed "Southern country boy" from the Big Easy who has learned to pull lessons out of hardships.

He survived Katrina and has been living in north Wichita since late September. He plans to stay for at least a year.

Whitty said he's fortunate even though his family members are scattered throughout several southern states. He has a manufacturing job that offers full benefits.

The only things he is really missing are his suits and a lady friend.

"I lost anywhere from 40 to 50 suits," Whitty said. "That's the way I dress. I likes to be sharp all the time."

As for a lady friend: "I'm lonely," he said with a chuckle.

Whitty is a charmer. He is the type of man who gives a pat on top of a handshake for good measure.

He's used to overcoming adversity.

Born blind, Whitty underwent multiple surgeries as a child to restore his vision only to lose one eye in a construction-related accident during his 20s. Glaucoma is stealing the vision from his other eye.

"I see very little, but I'm happy," Whitty said. "Ain't nothing I can do to change it."

Jim Crow didn't defeat him, either. Quite the opposite, Whitty moved to California and pursued interracial relationships because "there is one race on this Earth, and we're all a part of it."

Grandchildren pulled him back to New Orleans only about a year before Hurricane Katrina kicked him out.

Envision, a nonprofit agency that works with low-vision and blind people, offered Whitty a job in Wichita.

He was one of about 3,000 people traveling in more than 50 buses to an Army base outside of Muskogee, Okla., after journeying across Texas.

Barbara Clinkenbeard, a rehabilitation specialist for Oklahoma, heard about Whitty.

She said he was the only one of several people who had low vision or were blind who made an attempt to find work.

Clinkenbeard called Envision on Whitty's behalf.

She arranged for Whitty to travel by bus to Wichita, where a job at Envision awaited him.

Now, Whitty works the second shift in Envision's manufacturing warehouse picking plastic bags off a conveyor belt and boxing them.

And officials at Envision said Whitty is doing fine adjusting.

"He's a go-getter," said Sandy Guillroy, a recruiter with Envision, who worked with Whitty to get assistance from Catholic Charities, among other organizations, in Wichita.

Whitty said he wishes assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency would come faster to help replace possessions lost from his apartment. It could take a year, Whitty was told.

Because of the help received in Wichita, Guillroy said, "He's not doing without anything."

But suits and a lady friend in Wichita could help, Whitty said.

"When those things come together," Whitty said, "I can stay here for a while."

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