“Do you drink coffee?” he asked me eagerly as soon as we shook hands. With a broad smile and cheerful flourish, he was already digging into his bag, giving me a pound of coffee from The UnseenBean.
Gerry (Gerard) Leary was born in 1952 and named after the patron saint of expectant mothers, St. Gerard. He weighed three pounds when he was born and the oxygen used in the incubator during the first few weeks of his life took his sight. Despite his lack of sight, his parents were determined to raise Gerry to be self-sufficient and independent.
“The last ten years of my father’s life, we were like two peas in a pod,” Gerry boasts with a slight chuckle. “But when I was growing up, man….” as his voices drifts off and his face lights up with a broad smile that tells a colorful story full of fond memories of youthful hooliganism.
At 59, he is fearless. He interacts easily with everyone around him and marches forward with as much confidence and conviction as any sighted person.
Gerry grew up and became a mechanic, but about nine years ago, his interests started to wander. As he was having dinner at a San Francisco café, he heard what sounded like a rock tumbler. It was, in fact, a coffee bean roaster. Immediately intrigued, he asked the roastmaster if he could learn to roast beans by sound and smell. Without missing a beat, the roastmaster explained what the roast looked like as the beans turned color. Gerry pieced together the subtle changes in sound and smell to map out a roasting cycle.
Armed with his indomitable confidence he enrolled in the San Francisco Coffee Training Institute to learn the craft of roasting coffee beans, despite the skepticism of the roasting instructors. He couldn’t see the color of the beans as they roasted, but he could smell and hear the change. He outfitted a sample roaster with a talking thermostat made from parts found on the Internet and The Unseen Bean was born. Later as the business grew, he bought a full-sized roaster.
But this was Hamvention weekend and Gerry (WBGIVF) was in town for that. We were curious about his entrée into HAM radio. London, a four-year-old yellow lab and Gerry’s guide dog, was also patiently waiting for us to get to his story. We’ll get there, I promise.
When Gerry was nine years old, he came down with an ear infection which kept him home from school for several weeks. He was driving his dad crazy with boredom, so his dad’s Army buddy gave Gerry an old radio to listen to. It wasn’t long before Gerry’s natural curiosity took hold and he and his dad were taking HAM radio operator classes. By the time he was eleven, Gerry had his license and he could not only listen, but talk on the radio.
“Keep active in the HAM Radio operators’ community,” his dad advised. “You’ll always be in the company of educated, caring and compassionate people.” Each year, Gerry comes to Dayton, Ohio to meet up with his community in person. Each year, they greet him as they would an old friend.
“London is my third dog,” Gerry shared. “I had a setter at first — which didn’t work out — and a black lab named Midnight for nine years after that.” Midnight was diagnosed with cancer and Gerry was faced with the awful decision to put him down. The training facility had another dog — London — but he was three days away from being cycled out of the program. Gerry would have to move fast to get this dog.
Within hours, he had completed the application and London and a trainer were on their way to Gerry’s house. It usually takes three to six months to acclimate the guide dog to a new owner; it only took about thirty seconds for London to jump into Gerry’s lap and then settle at his feet, London’s side snuggled up against his leg.
I takes six months to a year to train a guide dog. Only 40 percent of all dogs who enter a program graduate and are placed. Despite his casual demeanor, London is a dog with exceptional skills.
For more on Gerry Leary, visit his website at http://www.theunseenbean.com, on twitter at @TheUnseenBean or come on down for the next Hamvention and meet him and London in person. You will be inspired by his effervescent personality and quirky sense of humor.
If you have a HAM radio, reach out to WBGIVF. Tell London his Dayton Pack is anxious to meet up with him next year. And the year after… and the year after…