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Fiercely independent advocate for the blind

Abuwi Rasool was injured in an industrial explosion in 1948 (File photograph)

Abuwi Rasool, one of the founders of the Bermuda Society for the Blind, has died at 89.

Mr Rasool taught handiwork to other blind people, ran his own shop in Hamilton, and prided himself on travelling unaided all over the world.

Born Wilfred John Tacklyn, Mr Rasool lost his eyesight in a dynamite explosion in 1948, when he was 19.

The accident occurred at the government quarry in Hamilton Parish, where he was working as a driller for the Department of Works and Engineering

The explosion almost claimed his life, as he recalled in an interview with The Royal Gazette last year.

Doctors were surprised when he smiled on being told he was blind, but Mr Rasool said: “I was just happy to be alive.”

He attended rehabilitation courses at the School for the Blind in Brooklyn, New York.

He then took two years’ training at the Royal School for the Blind in London, where he met several members of the Royal family.

In later years, when royalty called on Bermuda, Mr Rasool would often meet them — including Princess Margaret, who was a regular visitor.

On returning home, the St George’s native initially supported himself selling newspapers in King’s Square. He was also one of the first people on the island to learn Braille.

In 1954, with Jean Howes and Lance Hayward, Mr Rasool founded the Beacon Club, a precursor to the Bermuda Society for the Blind.

The group assisted the BSFB and offered a support group for the blind, including visits for housebound blind people.

Amanda Marshall, a former board president of the BSFB, said Lady Gladys Hall, a philanthropist who worked with Bermuda’s blind community, introduced the legislation formally creating the society in 1957.

Dr Marshall recalled Mr Rasool as “a very intelligent man with a range of interests”.

She added: “He was a very strong advocate for the empowerment of people who were blind, and he was a very good teacher.”

Mr Rasool, who treasured his independence, was the longest serving member at the BSFB workshop in its headquarters in Hamilton, Beacon House.

Blind workers wove items from brooms to baskets and stools, and Mr Rasool trained many others. He worked at Beacon House until an injury in 2001, and was a long-serving board member for the BSFB.

Mr Rasool became a Muslim 48 years ago through the Nation of Islam, transitioning to Orthodox Islam under the tutelage of the late Imam Warith Deen Mohammed.

He travelled frequently to Chicago during this time, and later opened Bermuda’s first Muslim book store.

For more than 15 years, until his health failed, he ran a shop, Abuwi Gift Case, on Brunswick Street.

Other accomplishments included sailing on the Lord Nelson, a tall ship catering for the disabled, in a crossing of the English Channel in 1992 when he was 63.

In 2001 he completed the Haj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Last year he told the Gazette that he was “most proud of all the years I spent working at Beacon House”.

Lois Astwood, a cook and volunteer at Beacon House from 1976 to 2001, said Mr Rasool was “very independent — he didn’t depend on anyone”.

“He could see everything in his shop by feeling and smelling,” she said. “He was a supervisor at Beacon House who trained people to do the work.”

Women and men divided the work between them, but Mr Rasool knew all the tasks.

Ms Astwood recalled Mr Rasool as “a nice man who liked to talk — and he was always in the right”.

Mr Rasool’s funeral service was held on Tuesday at the Masjid Muhammad Mosque in Hamilton.

He is survived by his daughter, Tanya Sutton, brothers Leon and Leonard, and his sister, Catherine Blakeney.r