Director of Senior Programs Pat Duffy to Retire at End of May

Pat sits on the floor while holding his rescue pups in his lap: Cosmo (golden fur) and Wanda (white fur) look toward the camera.

Pat with his rescue pups, Cosmo and Wanda.

As the staff, Board of Directors and students at Society for the Blind send their best retirement wishes to our Director of Senior Programs and Facilities Manager, Pat Duffy, we wanted to share more about the witty and kind man who has been working at Society for more than a decade.

When Pat joined our staff in a contract position in January 2010, he had never had any experience with people who had low or no vision. After a career in the electronics industry in Silicon Valley, Pat had joined the Ronald McDonald House at Stanford as the House Operations Manager, helping families whose loved ones were being cared for at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford.

“There weren’t a lot of happy endings at Ronald McDonald House, and I was burning out,” Pat said. “I decided to quit and figure out what I wanted to do next.”

Pat moved to Sacramento to be closer to friends and enjoy a lower cost of living. He purchased a house and soon was hired in an 18-month contract position at Society for the Blind, where he says everyone warmed up to him quickly and taught him how to work with people experiencing low vision or blindness.

At the end of the contract, Pat was hired as a case manager in the senior program. When Executive Director Shari Roeseler came on board and learned about Pat’s previous employment experience, she hired him as Director of Senior Programs and Facilities Manager. When he retires next month, Pat will leave what he calls a “dream team” after 11 years, the longest he has ever worked in one place.

“I’ve really enjoyed the work, the students and my colleagues,” Pat said. “There’s something so rewarding about when a student gets it and it clicks into place and they’ve mastered something. Plus, people dream about teams like I have. Everyone works hard and plays to each other’s strong points. Everyone’s willing to try new things and there’s almost no conflict. It’s an amazing cohesive group and a great way to come to work.”

Pat is proud to see how Society for the Blind has evolved since he first joined the organization 11 years ago, especially noting the steep rise in collaboration.

“It was a more siloed organization when I got here,” Pat said. “We didn’t talk to people outside of our program then. There’s a lot more give and take across departments now, and people are tapped for their expertise. Communication has really improved across programs.”

Looking back on the senior program, he is proud to say that Society for the Blind has increased the number of seniors it serves and now provides them with a wider variety of programs through its Senior IMPACT Project, including support groups to help them fight isolation.

“For a lot of our clientele, we’re one of the main ways they battle isolation,” Pat said. “Vision loss for seniors is a multi-pronged issue, especially with the pandemic isolating them in their homes or with people who don’t understand blindness.”

When the pandemic started, Society for the Blind turned its once-a-month in-person support groups into twice-a-week phone-in support groups called Coffee and Connect, including groups for Spanish speakers, Asian Americans and Black Americans. Participants love the phone-in groups and have asked that Coffee and Connect continue once Society for the Blind fully reopens.

“The pandemic shook things up and forced us to think outside of the box,” Pat said. “When we first meet our clients, we tell them we’re going to teach them how to think outside of the box and do things differently now that their vision is compromised. We had to practice what we preach.”

One of the most important things Pat has learned working at Society for the Blind is that he does not have to be scared of losing his vision.

“I don’t have to be dependent if I lose my vision,” Pat said. “There are different ways to do things, and if I put the effort into it, I can still live on my own and do what I need to do. It’s not the end of the world. That’s the big lesson for all of us.”

When asked what he plans to do when he retires, Pat laughs and says, “My stock answer is that I’m going to take a nap. Then I’m going to do some traveling and clean my garage – by then I’ll be 95.”

To learn more about Pat, check out Randy Owen’s interview with him on the Beyond Barriers Unscripted podcast:

Pat and fellow Senior Program staff. Photo taken during Forever Young Workshop in 2015.

Pat and fellow Senior Program staff. Photo taken during Forever Young Workshop in 2015.