Because A Father Cared: 1956

by  Margaret McDonald, An Article in The Rotarian,  November 1956 

 IT WOULD have been easier, really, for Morley and Lucy Hudson if their little Lucy had died.

Death is heartbreaking, but it is also inevitable and final, and the sorrow it brings is universally understood and respected.

But when this fine couple — this Rotary couple, as you would call them — found that their pretty little girl would never develop mentally, they felt that their heartache was unique, and they soon discovered that few can fathom the grief of those whose loved ones are condemned to the land of the living dead.

It was many months before this normally jolly businessman of Shreveport, Louisiana, learned to live with the knowledge that his child probably will spend the rest of her allotted span on earth in the desolate strata of existence which hope seldom reaches and promise rarely brightens.

Because Morley Hudson became convinced that this tragedy had befallen his family for a purpose, the parents of mentally retarded children throughout Louisiana and in several adjoining States now can face the future with serenity and, in many instances, with hope as well.

Rotarian Hudson’s personal tragedy served as the springboard for the organization of the Caddo-Bossier Association for Mentally Retarded Children. It also proved the stimulant for the almost unbelievable development of the Louisiana Association for Retarded Children. From it, too, have sprung similar organizations in Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

The wave of activity by parents of mentally retarded children in all sections of the U.S.A., some of which undoubtedly was inspired by the action of Louisiana parents, is a social phenomenon almost without precedence in any country.

Morley Hudson feels his experience was typical of that of other parents of mentally retarded or brain-injured children. When he was first informed of his daughter’s affliction, he felt an acute sense of guilt and something akin to shame.

“I remember wondering what I had done to deserve this terrible punishment,” he says. “I wondered of what sin I had been guilty that this should happen to me. I felt that life had been unfair to me.”

At birth, little Lucy was a completely normal infant. At age 14 months she suffered an attack of scarlet fever and encephalitis which damaged her brain and left her in what medical and psychiatric experts term the “vegetative” state.

After months of treatment Lucy still recognized no one, showed no emotions, and was totally disinterested in her surroundings. Her arms and legs, which had been drawn up in a spastic position, gradually relaxed, but in six months’ time no other sign of her recovery manifested itself.

In January, 1953, the child was taken to a children’s hospital in Chicago where her parents were informed that she probably would spend the rest of her life in the vegetative state. Mr. and Mrs. Hudson were advised to place her in a custodial home to spare further heartache for themselves and additional difficulties for their older daughter, Nancy, now 8.

“The shock of receiving news like that is something no one can understand unless he has experienced it,” Rotarian Hudson maintains. “We began inspecting custodial homes, but they all seemed so bleak we couldn’t bear to leave a 2-year-old child in any of them. Then we heard of a lovely, homelike place in Texas, so we took Lucy there.”

Some eight months later the Hudsons learned of a new type of treatment which had proved effective in treating acute encephalitis cases on the West Coast. Lucy was taken to California in August, 1953, but here further grief awaited them. They were told that the child was, for all practical purposes, blind and deaf as well as mentally retarded.

Until about a year ago Lucy remained at the California hospital, where she eventually learned to sit up, to chew solid foods, and to crawl about to some extent. Her mental development, however, lagged far behind her physical advances.

“All those long, lonely months I had been doing a lot of thinking and self-probing,” Morley Hudson recalls. “I began to understand that I must stop asking myself why this had happened to me and must begin thinking in terms of how I could use my personal tragedy to the greater glory of God and what I could do to ensure this unfortunate child of mine a life of happiness and usefulness. Once I had adopted this line of thinking, the way became clear to me.”

Morley began reading all available information on mental retardation. He learned that 3 percent of the world’s population is mentally retarded and that the odds are one in 30 that every family will be stricken with one mentally retarded member. In fact, the chances are four times greater that someone in every family will be mentally retarded than that someone will be killed in an automobile accident.

He learned, too, that mental retardation is nine times more prevalent than cerebral palsy and ten times more crippling than polio. According to best information, mentally retarded persons exceed accumulated totals of all other handicapped persons combined, speaking numerically. Even more comforting from a personal standpoint was the discovery that medical experts consider mental retardation as accidental as a broken leg and are convinced that it is not hereditary.

Armed with this information, Morley set about to interest others in the problem of mentally retarded children and to dispel the old wives’ tales concerning its causes. He first attempted to call forth other parents of mentally retarded children, many of whom kept their youngsters hidden as a result of combined guilt-shame reactions. Some, when approached, even denied having mentally retarded children, while others refused to discuss the matter from acknowledged embarrassment and fear of public ridicule. It was only after Hudson aired the problem publicly, through a newspaper interview, that others decided they, too, would align themselves with him in an effort to work for the betterment of their children.

On Sunday, January 24, 1954, a group of 14 parents met at the home of one couple to seek reassurance from each other and to discuss ways of obtaining help for their children. After six successive Sunday-night meetings at various there were 15 local organizations represented, and applications from eight others were presented for admission to the State group.

The Caddo-Bossier Association was chartered June 26, 1954. Almost from the date of its conception, members of the Association rallied behind Morley Hudson, well known in Shreveport as a successful businessman, as the natural leader of the group. At first a member of the board of directors, he later served as executive director of the Association. All his work has been done on a voluntary basis and without thought of remuneration.

From the start, Hudson leaned heavily upon his fellow Rotarians for assistance in obtaining a place in the sun for mentally retarded children. Harry A. Johnson, Jr., an attorney, prepared the charter for the State organization and set up its constitution and by-laws. He and another Rotarian, the Reverend John J. Rasmussen, a clergyman, served on the initial board of directors.

Doug Attaway, Jr., and George Shannon, managing editor and editor, respectively, threw the weight of the Shreveport Journal behind the movement, and stories about mentally retarded children began appearing for the first time in the daily newspaper. Fellow Rotarian Charles A. Hazen, managing editor of Shreveport’s other daily, the Times, also lent support to the Association through its columns.

Rotarians Tom McElroy, E. Newton Wray, and T. B. Langford lent the facilities of their motion-picture, television, and radio firms, respectively, in support of the movement. Residents of Caddo and Bossier Parishes, long accustomed to a hush-hush attitude toward those who were “not quite right,” began receiving matter-of-fact information on the subject of mental retardation from all news-disseminating mediums.

By September of that first year, Rotarian Hudson had prevailed upon the Caddo Parish School Board to open three special classes in the public schools for white mentally retarded children and two classes for Negro youngsters. Heretofore, there had been no facilities for the training and education of these children save in private homes, which few of the parents could afford.

Hudson appeared before civic, fraternal, church, and social groups at every opportunity to explain the aims of the Association and to plead for assistance. At times he made as many as eight or ten addresses a week on behalf of mentally retarded children. When his commitments became impossibly heavy, Dr. W. L. McLeod, also a clergyman member of the Shreveport Rotary Club, filled in for him on radio, television, and speaker’s platform. Dr. McLeod also rallied the clergy behind the movement.

Despite the special classes operating under the school board’s jurisdiction, there still remained the problem of those mentally retarded children who either were not educable or who had to receive social training before qualifying for admission to the special classes. Rotarian Hudson decided a workshop for mentally retarded children was the answer to the needs of these youngsters, some 24 of them in Shreveport alone.

However, the organization, still in its infancy, had no funds for the establishment of such a workshop. Hudson, with characteristic directness, went to Jesuit priests of St. John’s Catholic Church in Shreveport and placed the problem before them. They offered him the use of an old residence, owned by the church, for establishment of the workshop.

This house was converted into five classrooms and a handicraft shop, with parents of the youngsters doing much of the remodelling work themselves. Rotarians donated equipment and supplies and, where this was impossible, saw to it that the organization received the necessary articles at cost.

Meanwhile, the Most Reverend Charles P. Greco, bishop of the Catholic diocese of Alexandria, became interested in the movement through reports reaching him through the priests of St. John’s parish. The bishop and Rotarian Hudson had several long and earnest conferences. Soon Bishop Greco announced plans for the conversion of a lovely old estate in Clarks, Louisiana, into St. Mary’s Residential Training School under auspices of the Catholic prelates of the diocese. Lucy Hudson was among the first of the children to be entered in the training school, the first of its kind in Louisiana.

With Lucy happily established in a school near enough so that he could visit her frequently, her father turned again to the problem of financing operation of the workshop for retarded children in Shreveport. For advice he called upon Rotarian W. J. Clark, veteran of many a local fund-raising campaign. Clark advised on the timing and planning of the first campaign, which netted some $10,000 in 1954. These funds were used to engage three teachers and three aides for the workshop.

Rotarians, as individuals or as heads of business and industrial firms, contributed more than 50 percent of the funds in that initial drive. The Shreveport Rotary Club also is paying the expenses of one youngster at the workshop on a scholarship basis. One Rotarian, C. L. Perry, serves as an administrative counsellor, while another, W. R. Barrow, acts as liaison man between the Caddo-Bossier Association and the Community Council on such matters as fund raising, programs, and projected plans for the future.

Never-failing help and encouragement also have been forthcoming from H. C. Anderson. Past Director of Rotary International, and from E. Allen Gillispie, current District Governor and long-time Secretary of the Shreveport Club. Both have lent the official approval of the Shreveport Rotary Club to undertakings of the Caddo-Bossier Association and also assisted In the successful $15,000 fund-raising campaign of 1955, concluded in December.

While the local workshop thrives and provides socialization and habit training for mentally retarded children in the two-parish area around Shreveport, the residential training school at Clarks, in Caldwell Parish, also is flourishing with the help of Rotarians. Q. T. Hardtner, president of the famed Urania Lumber Company of Urania, just seven miles south of Clarks, hauls equipment and supplies to the school without charge.

Word of the spectacular success of the Caddo-Bossier Association for Mentally Retarded Children has been spreading rapidly, and Morley Hudson has been called upon to assist in the formation of local associations in Arkansas, Texas, Mississippi, and adjoining States. He spends virtually as much time on the road in behalf of mentally retarded children as he does behind the desk of his own office.

Through all the long months of his often-discouraging efforts (which were later softened a bit by the arrival a year ago of a third daughter, Courtney, who is perfectly normal), Rotarian Hudson has been fully aware of the fact that none of the special classes, none of the workshop facilities, can benefit his own little daughter. Lucy always will hover midway between life and death in the land of the living dead.

“I’d give my right eye just to hear her call me ‘Daddy,'” he says. “Since there is virtually nothing I can do to help Lucy, the next best thing is to help other mentally retarded children. I used to ask myself why this had happened to me. I have the answer now.”

Source: McDonald, M. (1956, November). Because a father cared.” The Rotarian. Retrieved [date accessed] from /programs/father-cared/,

 

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