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Blind pastor doesn’t let disability stand in his way

An attentive young kindergarten teacher in Columbus, Miss., was the first person to notice young Eric had a vision problem. Dr. J. Eric Pridmore remembers the progression of his visual problems well. He was diagnosed as having a lazy eye at 4, and this was an accurate diagnosis. Unfortunately, it was not the only problem with his eyes.

Pridmore was brought up in church and came to know the Lord at a very young age. As his eyesight worsened, no one quite knew what the problem was, and Pridmore was less than forthcoming with the severity of his vision loss. He, like most people that age, just wanted to grow up, hang out with his friends and family and get his drivers license.

That right of passage, driving a car, was on the top of 15-year-old Pridmore’s list. He was totally excited about the feeling of freedom and independence that cruising around on the open road would give him.

Pridmore knew he wanted to serve God as a minister and preached his first sermon at 15. He also went to UAB, University of Alabama Birmingham, to finally find out just what was happening with his eyes. What Pridmore and his family found out at UAB was not what they wanted to hear.

Retinitis pigmentosa was Pridmore’s diagnosis. These big words packed quite a punch; loss of peripheral vision followed by loss of central vision — blindness. Faith in God, future plans, eventual blindness … Pridmore just wanted a drivers license.

So Pridmore and his father practiced and cheated just a little. They knew the route he would have to drive for his driver’s test. Pridmore and his father practiced over and over until Pridmore could almost drive it blindfolded. The day came for the driver’s test, and Pridmore sailed right through, getting the license he so desperately wanted.

Eighteen months later, after a couple of fender benders, Pridmore accepted his fate and gave up driving. Pridmore’s faith in God and his friends were his salvation.

Pridmore said, “My church youth group literally saved my life. I could have gone to a much darker place without them.

“I believe I am a better pastor because of the difficulties I’ve faced. I do, however, have a low tolerance for self-pity. We all have a bad day once in a while. I’m not talking about that. Really giving in to self pity brings nothing positive to the table.

“One thing that I had to overcome was timidity. I was a good student at Wood Junior College in Mathison (Miss.). It was there that I turned my life around socially. I considered it a new beginning and decided to make some positive changes. My freshman year I became interested in student government. I served as a senator that year and was elected student body president the next. My parents noticed quite a change in the shy young man they had sent away to college.”

Pridmore pastored rural churches while he continued his education. While attending Mississippi State University, one of the members of his congregation was the vice president of the university. Vice President George Veral encouraged Pridmore to let some of his pride go and accept help. Pridmore reluctantly attended Mississippi School for the Blind for one week. He learned to use computer technology to read for him.

Pridmore met and married his wife, Lisa, during his time at Mississippi State.

Pridmore attended seminary at Emory University in Atlanta.

“It was at Emory that a professor helped me understand God is in the midst of my disability. It is a process,” he said.

Pridmore didn’t want to be different but began to accept modifications that helped him study and learn.

“When I graduated seminary I knew I wanted to further my education,” said Pridmore. “I was legally blind, and I wasn’t sure how the job market would be for me, so I wanted to be as prepared as possible. I attended Drew University and received my Ph.D. in religion and disability.

“God once again positioned me right where he wanted me. I lived seven miles from The Seeing Eye guide dog school. At the end of May in ‘97 I enrolled at The Seeing Eye, and after 25 days of rigorous training got my first guide dog.

“I finally had to face my disability and embrace it if you will. I couldn’t hide a guide dog like I could hide a cane,” said Pridmore. “This changed my life. I became comfortable with myself and didn’t need to hide my blindness anymore. Freedom came for me when I was able to admit that I needed help and accepted it. God always has a purpose for our lives.”

Pridmore and his wife are co-pastors of First Methodist Church of Poplarville, where Pridmore is joined at the pulpit by his faithful guide dog, Atlas.