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An unbending focus

MEDFORD — Medford resident Stan Littrell, a longtime advocate for public transportation and a regular inspiration for those who spend time at the Rogue Valley Genealogical Society library, has opened a lot of eyes to how few restrictions those with a positive outlook on life truly face.

Honored this month by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners with a Community Service Award, Littrell recently ended a near 13-year tenure on the Rogue Valley Transportation District board. Littrell was appointed to RVTD in 2004, but he began attending meetings long before that, and it’s likely he’ll still be a familiar face at the agency, he said.

“I started going to the meetings during what were some very tumultuous times, and it felt like it was important to go find out what was going on,” he said recently.

Blinded at birth — his retinas were burned when he was given retina-damaging levels of oxygen as a premature infant in the 1950s — Littrell relies exclusively on public transportation and says his unique perspective gave a different vantage point than most board members had.

“I wanted to run because I felt like I gave a voice to people who had no voice,” said the 64-year-old.

Defeated this spring in a tight election, Littrell says he won’t stray far from roles in which he’s able to contribute to his community. A transplant from Pittsburg, California, Littrell graduated “regular” high school, he quips, “before mainstream was mainstream.” A 1977 graduate of San Francisco State University, Littrell had a slew of gigs, including a number of years in radio before relocating to Southern Oregon in 1999.

Now a part-time employee at the genealogical society, a position provided by Easter Seals, Littrell says he focuses his life on being a help to others wherever he may be.

Advances in technology, especially over the past decade, have enabled reader technology that allows Littrell to help transcribe historic records and offer research assistance. Similar technology, he says, enables him to use a smartphone for things — unheard of for blind individuals a decade ago — such as taking photos and interacting on Facebook.

RVGS President Anne Billeter said the commissioners' meeting during which Littrell received his service award was “a packed house.”

In a world that caters to sighted individuals, Billeter said Littrell painstakingly listens to detailed records, line for line, and transcribes them to make records more accessible for everyone.

“Stan is one of the kindest and most patient people I have ever known. Watching him patiently listen to the program, the software, read every single word on a website until it gets to the word that he’s waiting for… is just amazing,” Billeter said.

“He puts in hour after hour, investigating those genealogies and finding ways to make it more accessible for other vision-disabled people. He’s really made it his mission.”

In addition to words to honor Littrell for his service, the plaque featured a section engraved with braille.

“When they put the big plaque in his hand, he didn’t know what the shape or size was going to be. They turned it around and reached over and put his hand on the plaque and, when he felt the Braille, he almost literally cried,” Billeter said.

“The emotion in his face was ...  you just knew that he was so moved by that thoughtfulness and understanding.”

Commissioner Rick Dyer, who served on the RVTD board alongside Littrell, said it was a joy to recognize Littrell, whom he called “a strong advocate for effective and efficient transit in Jackson County."

Said Dyer, “He brought his unique perspective to the board as a regular rider with a disability. Stan combined his strong advocacy with solid, fiscally responsible decision-making and served the citizens of Jackson County extremely well throughout his tenure on the RVTD board.”

Jammie Payne, a longtime waitress at Rooster’s where Littrell is a regular, likened him to “Norm” from the sitcom “Cheers.”

“He is always positive and laughing, and he would give the shirt off his back if needed,” Payne said.

RVTD General Manager Julie Brown said Litrell’s contributions to the district were immeasurable. Littrell’s sense of humor, she said, and willingness to make hard decisions were ever present.

“When we were going through difficult times, Stan was always there to support the staff and help us to look at things in a different light. As a person, he’s just got a really great quality of not feeling sorry for himself and always trying to help other people,” Brown said.

“Whenever he’s done anything for the district or anybody else, he’s done it without trying to make it for himself. He’s been willing to make the hard decisions,” she said.

Brown chuckled as she remembered Littrell “winning a flashlight” as a conference door prize, and another time, during a campaign years ago, when the rain had removed the paper sign from the stick he was holding.

“It was just pouring down rain, and I went over and said, ‘Stan, your sign fell off. People think you’re standing here on Highway 62 waving a stick,’ and he just laughed and said, ‘Oh, crap!’ ”

Likely only temporarily retired from politics, Littrell said he would always be available when there was a need.

“A lot of times people tend to be apathetic and sit back. I decided a long time ago that I didn’t want to do that,” he said. In spite of his “disability,” Littrell figures he can contribute at least as much, if not more, as anyone else.

“I heard someone say we are all temporarily able-bodied. At some point in all our lives, if you don’t already have one, you’ll have a disability,” he said.

“You can’t let things like that define who you are. If life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. I know that sounds like a platitude, but it’s true.”

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Stan Littrell, who works at the Rogue Valley Genealogical Society library in Phoenix, was recognized with a community service award by Jackson County commissioners. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]