“When you learn to see the world differently, it becomes a different world.”
With those words, famous, retired news anchorman Walter Cronkite introduced a public television painting series by artist John Stobart.1
Doug Byrum and I went to see Stobart during an art gallery exhibition in Lancaster, Ohio. Doug knew how to see the world differently, seeing people in the best light and finding optimism in the face of crippling challenges since birth.
Doug refused to use a wheelchair, a stubborn refusal to concede to limitations that started with surgery at age 4. Doug developed incredible artistic ability while confined to a hospital for several months in a body cast.
In a preview of my upcoming book, I wanted to show you photos of this remarkable artist who turned disability into amazing ability.
Doug entered the world stillborn, but doctors revived him. Doctors told parents he would never see his second birthday. He survived seven surgeries between ages 4 and 17, and the insertion of steel rods into his spine. When he lived far longer than expected, doctors revised their estimate and said he would never hold a full-time job. They were wrong again.
As a frail young man, Doug remembered his mom frequently flipping the light on in his bedroom “just checking to make sure I was still breathing.”
Confined to bed, Doug learned at a young age that he “could do more with crayons than eat them or draw on walls.”
Doug is one of the most memorable people I ever met, when I reported on his lawsuit in Dec. 27, 1990. He alleged AT&T fired him when federal grants expired for hiring the disabled yet had used him for a productive career with the same condition.
The suit was stalled but settled quickly after my modern-day story of Scrooge and Tiny Tim was picked up internationally. Doug found my story on the Associated Press report in a Thailand English-language newspaper and in London.
Doug and I teamed up a few years later when I was with the newspaper in Akron to do a Sunday magazine cover story. The Andrews’ Raid was known as the “Great Locomotive Chase.” Walt Disney made a movie of the daring Civil War raid behind enemy lines led by Union volunteers and James Andrews, portrayed by Fess Parker in the Disney movie.
Doug devoted the remainder of his life to documenting every aspect of this raid, including tracking the graves of the raiders and getting them recognized with historical markers at the cemeteries. He solved the mystery of two raiders who would have been lost to history.
There is a lot more to tell you in my latest book, and Doug earns an entire chapter. As I was digging through photos, I wanted to share the work of this remarkable person who passed away far too early in life.
Doug didn't just make lemonade out of lemons. He made lemon pie, lemon meringue and so much more.
The first draft of the book was finished Labor Day weekend and now my rewrite is in progress. I finished 108,000 words in 120 days, which might sound overwhelming. But that's a little over 800 words every single day, something I can do in 30 minutes.
In the first few weeks, that's all I did. Wife Linda would grab both of my hands, fall backwards with all of her strength to lift me to the side of a hospital bed in our home. She helped me to a wheelchair and then to my desk. Thirty minutes was pushing it, but I never missed a day. In the first few weeks, that's all I achieved and then I was back to bed for another 24 hours.
This ordeal and the remarkable recovery are also recounted in the book, including an extensive interview with the doctor who made it happen.
Please sign up for updates like this one as the book moves toward publication in November.
1 John Stobart’s WorldScape aired on PBS-TV in 1992. Stobart is an outstanding British maritime painter whose show was devoted to beginning artists. Stobart wrote a 1993 book, “Pleasures of Outdoor Painting with John Stobart,” based on the 13 episodes and plein air paintings he demonstrated.
Doug Byrum's self portrait in charcoal pencil.
A body cast couldn't stop the smiles.
Samples of Doug's artwork
The General was stolen by James Andrews and Ohio Union volunteers in a daring but failed raid deep inside Confederate lines. Doug did this colored pencil drawing for the cover story I wrote for the Akron Beacon Journal's Sunday magazine.
Doug Byrum found the burial sites and won historical markers for Andrews’ Raiders.
My book is coming to Amazon in November. Please sign up to my mailing list for more updates like this.