On Valentine’s Day 1961, his mother sat near the foot of his hospital bed and the light was almost gone. “Son,” the doctor had told him a day earlier, “you’re going to be blind tomorrow.”
Sandy Greenberg was just 20 when he first heard those gut-punching words in a Detroit exam room, but they remain seared in his mind, just like the lasting image of his wife of 55 years, Sue. Or the memory of the patch of illuminated New York City grass that one of his college roommates and lifelong friends, Art Garfunkel (yes, him), pointed to freshman year and said “Look at what the light does to the color” during a walk on the corner of Amsterdam and 118th streets on Columbia University’s Upper West Side campus.
Everything else is a picture he has to paint in his imagination, like his three children and four grandchildren. Or his sense of the beloved Rembrandt that hangs in his Washington D.C. apartment. And, more recently, the presumed shocked expressions of board members and faculty at Johns Hopkins’ world-renowned Wilmer Eye Institute, when, six years ago, an impeccably dressed blind man who had grown up poor walked up to a note-less podium and issued an astonishing challenge. He eventually announced it publicly: The Sanford and Susan Greenberg Prize, $2 million in gold to whomever does the most to end blindness by the year 2020. This was his moonshot.
“This is our destiny,” Greenberg said. “End it, end it, end it.”
His story is a cruel irony and a fascinating paradox rolled into a remarkable life, powerful and inspiring enough to rally a group of the world’s top doctors and scientists, and undeniably audacious enough to garner the world’s attention.
Yes, Dr. Sanford Greenberg, chairman of the board of governors of one of the best eye institutes on the planet, is blind.