One of television’s most poignant and stirring sports blips never has received the attention the incident and the cause it now supports deserve. It’s still hard to watch it without getting a lump in the throat.
Tom Pernice Jr., pro golf star via UCLA and nearby Raytown, Mo., High, had just won the 1999 Buick Open.
It was the first PGA tour victory for Tom, and it brought him a $432,000 prize package. He’d turned pro in 1983; it had been a long struggle. Little wonder his handsome 39-year-old face was so illuminated, particularly as he picked up his 4-year-old daughter, Brooke, for a hug in that moment of delight.
If you hadn’t heard of Brooke’s problem, you soon would learn. As Pernice held his girl, she began a Braille-type reading of his face with her little fingers. An interviewer asked what she was up to and she commented: “I’m just feeling Daddy’s face to see if he’s happy.” She was blind but joyful.
If you can’t get emotional over that, they ought to drop you in a hole and kick dirt over you. I figured this would be a TV highlight shown again and again. Wasn’t, though it was better drama than most home run hits, basketball dunks and football catches on blip shows. Producers didn’t agree; there were surprisingly few repeats.
Yet what has happened since has resurrected shots of that adoring facial reading and called new attention to Brooke Pernice — and how she’s working to help others.
Brooke was born with a form of blindness labeled Leber’s congenital amaurosis. Tom and wife Sydney didn’t learn about it until Brooke was six weeks old. They tried every medical source available in the Kansas City area and finally moved to Murrieta, Calif., where a specialist worked what Tom and Sydney call a miracle. Brooke has reached the point where she can make out light changes and forms; there is hope for more progress.
Meanwhile, at age 14, she is a country-type singer who has written some touching tunes about her struggles and travels the country singing and discussing her deep religious faith. She has sung the national anthem at sports events, including a recent Kansas City Royals game. Her proud mother relates that “there’s never been a day in her life she’s felt sorry for herself.”
Brooke has an older sister, and the whole Pernice family works to aid the Foundation Fighting Blindness. Its goal is to battle retinal degenerative diseases and promote gains in innovative gene therapy. Tom Pernice has convinced a lot of other golfers to help, and nearly $10 million has been raised the past three years.
Brooke Pernice is no charity case expecting people to help her and listen to her vocals and music just because of an eyesight problem. If you see her in person, you sense her zest and zeal as a talented performer, and that attitude carries over to her recordings (Web site: Brookepernice.com). Fantastic maturity at only 14.
Brooke feels she’s been called to entertain and help people, and there’s every evidence she’s on track. She and her problem were introduced to the world by that touching scene after the Buick Open in 1999. She and her daddy, who has won nearly $13 million by now, expect to register a lot more major victories.
Let’s hope that Brooke soon can see rather than feel her dad’s jubilant face after another major win.