A Tribute to Charles Kenneth Lord


The South African Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind (GDA) has lost one of its finest, most loyal and dedicated members of staff, colleague and mentor to many.  Ken passed away following a relatively short illness, on the morning of Thursday 25 July 2013.

In 2004, Ken was awarded the R.W. Bowen Medal for Lifelong Meritorious Service to the Blind. This is the citation that accompanied that award –

When Charles Kenneth Lord arrived in the world in Ward 9 at 9am on the 29th day of the 9th month 1939, the world was at war – a war that was to change the lives of everyone forever.  No one could have guessed then that this new-born child would grow up to fight and win many a battle for humanity, not through the barrel of a gun but by sheer hard work, empathy, intellect and innovation and that, in this way, he would bring about a benign change in the lives of many, many thousands of his fellow human beings.

Ken grew up in Johannesburg where he matriculated at the King Edward VII School in 1957.  He married Arleen Harcourt in 1965 and the couplehave two sons, two daughters and six grandchildren.  He has always enjoyed the richness of a warm and loving family life where mutual sup-port permeates their many and varied activities in education, work and leisure.  Apart from his professional life, he has been equally at home whether it was sharing his son’s enthusiasm for rugby, umpiring cricket up to provincial level, serving on the school governing body, participating in the parents support group or tending his bonsai trees.

In May 1961, he joined the SA Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind as an apprentice guide-dog trainer.  He qualified in August 1963, the first South African to do so.  He became Chief Trainer in 1971 and Executive Director of GDA in 1974, a position he has held with distinction for the past 30 years.  When he qualified as an orientation and mobility instructor at the Midlands Mobility Centre in Birmingham, England, in 1971, he became the first dually qualified trainer in the world.

This distinction was not merely a professional coup or the attainment of a personal goal.  It was evidence of his rare gift of understanding and recognizing the most fundamental needs of others and his willingness, devoid of arrogance, to find solutions to both their common and their unique needs.  In contrast with many other training centres, GDA will train blind people with additional disabilities and also people with disabilities, who are not blind – the blind man with no hands who chose to use a guide-dog or the physically disabled person using a service dog for the purpose of self-care and independent living.

Since its establishment 50 years ago, GDA has trained 1106 guide-dogs and their owners.  Since 1974, operating under the auspices of GDA, the SA Mobility School has trained 130 instructors, who in turn have trained thousands of South Africans in orientation and mobility throughout the country, using the long cane in particular.

For 37 years Arleen Lord has played a key role in the success of GDA by taking charge of the Association’s large household.  In the process, she has ensured the well-being of all concerned by acting as hostess, mother, sister, confidante and friend to no fewer than a thousand students.

In parallel with his working life in GDA, Ken participated in the activities of the SA National Council for the Blind in a voluntary capacity for almost 30 years.  He was a member of the Executive Committee and of several special committees.  By far the most productive of these was the Committee for Rehabilitation on which he served for 20 years, eight of these as Vice-Chairman.  He was deeply involved in the establishment of Optima College in Pretoria, including the erection and equipping of the premises and the design of its early independence and vocational training courses.

In 1996 he helped to establish the Gauteng Provincial Council for the Blind, which he chaired for four years.  He was also a significant player in the analysis and evaluation of the results of the SANCB Project Renewal and in the implementation of actions flowing from it.

Ken Lord is held in high esteem by his colleagues and was a well-respected worker and leader on the international scene.  In 1992 GDA was a founder member of the International Federation of Guide-Dog Schools for the Blind and Ken was involved in its Dog Training Working Group and the Student Training Working Group, formed to determine international guidelines and standards.  He chaired the Breeding Centre Working Group, was in international assessor and chaired the International Federation itself from 1998 to 2002.

Over the years he received a number of well-deserved honours in recognition of his leadership and achievements.  Among these, possibly the most precious because it came from his professional peers, was the Ken Lord Award, created by the International Federation to honour a lifetime of commitment and service to blind people.  Not only was it named after him, but in 2002 he was the first recipient of the award that will be made every two years.

After all the accolades and celebrations have faded from memory, what will remain to warm the heart and to inspire his successors will be the knowledge that Ken Lord’s lifelong contribution has enabled thousands of blind South Africans to exercise their constitutional rights more freely.  Alongside their sighted peers, they are accessing vital benefits such as education and labour and, above all else, they are enjoying freedom of movement, privacy and dignity.

For the reasons given above therefore, and for many more which are recorded elsewhere, the South African National Council for the Blind has great pleasure in bestowing its highest honour, the


CHARLES KENNETH LORD – a leader, not a follower.

Signed on behalf of the Council on this sixteenth day of October 2004
Z M Yacoob                            W P Rowland

Despite retiring in 2004, Ken continued to be deeply involved in the field of visual impairment, through his work as an Assessor for the International Federation of Guide-Dog Schools, a consultant to GDA, as Chairman of the Soweto Workshop for the Blind and part-time facilitator at the College of Orientation and Mobility (COM). But this was not enough for a man with still so much to give to others and in 2008 he returned to fulltime employment as a staff member at COM until his untimely passing in July.

Ken was never happier than when he was helping others – whether this was supervising a student in some far flung corner of the country, teaching a person with a visual impairment orientation and mobility skills, assisting students in the evenings with their understanding of a particular piece of work, quietly listening and helping a colleague or motivating a group of potential donors.  His enthusiasm, compassion, genuine concern for others, humour, wisdom and humility are just a few of the characteristics that made Ken such a special person to know and work alongside.

Ken dedicated his life to the service of GDA and the IGDF.  He was a true leader in the guide dog world, a pioneer, a professional, an educator, a motivator – a LEGEND.

Our deepest sympathies go to Arleen and the family.  We shall all miss this deeply respected man, who was such an asset to the Association and who did so much for others.

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