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Life Is a Continuous Adventure for This 75 Year Old Texan
By Greg Melikov

Larry P. Johnson is proof that disabilities can be conquered. He lives life fearlessly and with zest because to him it’s all an adventure.

The transplanted Chicagoan has been a radio disc jockey, TV newscaster and telephone company human resources director. The San Antonio resident of more than three decades is a family man, author and motivational speaker.

Larry is an amazing individual despite being blind for 74 ½ years of his life.

“Whatever have been my achievements in life I owe to my mother,” he says. “Mom taught me at a very early age the importance of independence and resiliency. She didn’t believe in coddling or shielding me from the bumps and bruises of life just because I happened to be blind.”

Larry’s sight disappeared at 6 months old. He loved school and was graduated from John Marshall High on Chicago’s North Side. It was about the only school that offered a special visional impaired curriculum.

Then he attended Northwestern University where he majored in speech. Before graduation, he hosted a radio program on campus and interviewed international students about their customs and cultures, which whetted his appetite to travel and become a broadcaster.

Larry was 18 when he first visited Mexico. He loved the country so much that he returned to get his master’s degree in economics and Latin American studies at Mexico City’s La Universidad de Las Americas, which was founded in 1940.

While a graduate student, he worked at a local radio station and became a top disc jockey on the Mexican airwaves. He also was the first blind TV newscaster in that country.

During his 17 years south of the border ending in ’74, he worked for the bilingual station Radio Capital XEL. His disc jockey show was in English.

“I am fully fluent in Spanish and, at one time, also spoke French fairly well, but I have since lost that,” he points out. “During the 1968 Olympics, I co-anchored a show broadcasting the events. The broadcast of the 1969 Apollo 11 lunar landing was in Spanish with a team of Mexican announcers over a nationwide radio network. I also did a morning television newscast in English.”

When at Northwestern, however, his dean advised against studying broadcasting. “In his mind, he saw too many obstacles, too many problems for a blind person to have to overcome. The truth is that most obstacles I had to overcome were not due to the physical limitations caused by my blindness, but due to the attitudes of persons like him who were reluctant to give me the chance.”

So he decided to write a book “to share some of my unique experiences and adventures with people who have lived in or visited Mexico, to let my children and grandchildren know something of that incredible period of my life. And, perhaps, I wanted to serve as a role model for people with disabilities or families with children with disabilities.”

Larry has six children and three times as many grandchildren. 

“Secondly, and even more importantly, my reason for writing ‘Mexico by Touch’ was to somehow encourage and motivate all people to follow their dreams and to face life’s adversities and challenges with confidence, patience and a sense of humor.”

Larry had decided to visit Mexico because “I loved the history, the music and the language.  I’d just finished four years of studying Spanish and wanted to try it out.  Also, with my guide dog Tasha (for seven years), it was an opportunity for me to do something on my own – something a little daring.”

He has been adventurous on more than one occasion, like the first time he drove a car. “It was on the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago.  I was, I guess, 22 or 23 at the time.  I had a friend, Norman, in whom I had total trust.

“One early morning, about 4, we were driving on the expressway when I said, ‘You know, I’d sure like to know what it feels like to drive a car.’ And Norman said: ‘OK, let’s do it.’

“He stopped the car, came around to my side, and told me to slide over behind the steering wheel. I next thing I knew I am driving his car with him giving me verbal directions. It was an exhilarating experience. So, 10 years later, I did it again, with the program director at the radio station where I worked in Mexico City.”

One of his most memorable experiences was interviewing Stevie Wonder at a Mexico City nightclub when the entertainer was about 19.

“He was appearing at a nightclub in the El Camino Real and I went with a friend to interview him for my radio show.” Larry recalls. “But his manager at the time hesitated. I persisted and Stevie agreed to the interview after the show in a restaurant at the other end of the hotel.

“It was 3 a.m. and I got this strange urge. I don’t why, but I asked him if he’d like to race to the restaurant. It was a half block or so away. It was a wide corridor. He hesitated.

“I persisted, ‘let’s race.’ So we did. He won.”

Larry, married to his Diana for nearly half a century, spent 22 years as a radio and TV broadcaster. He also was human resources manager for SBC Communications in San Antonio for more than two decades before retiring eight years ago.

But he’s still active, mainly as an international motivational speaker for more than a quarter-century. His workshops are timely, ranging from rumor control to perceptions of disability.

He has written three books that includes another personal memoir, “Inside My World,” based on what his mother would tell people, “He’s in his own little word.”

The world of the blind, Larry points out is smaller, closer and more personal. “Each of us is in our own little world. It is our uniqueness and individuals that makes our existence so precious.

“Nearly everyone’s mom was at home when the kids got home from school Families grew victory gardens. You could buy candy for a penny. Kids played war games using sticks for guns. And a foot of snow was a dream comes true.”

His other book is “You Can, If You Think You Can” – a how-to guide to overcome failure, adversity and disappointment. He firmly believes success and happiness are a matter of attitude and choice, determined by an individual’s ability to rebound from adversity and follow his or her dreams.  

Larry practices what he preaches and shows no sign of slowing down.

.

Greg Melikov Bio:

Greg Melikov is a retired newspaperman that continues to produce articles and columns on a variety of subjects for print publications and websites throughout the world. He grew up in Chicago, worked in South Florida as an editor and writer at The Miami Herald and Sun-Sentinel for more than 40 years, and has resided in Greater San Antonio for a decade. He can be contacted at gmelikov@satx.rr.com

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