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By Linda Emley
A few days ago I was reading a 1957 Richmond News and ran across a picture of a very dear friend of mine. It was titled “Grounded.” This story caught my eye because of the title. I didn’t recognize my friend in this photo because she didn’t become my friend until years later and looked nothing like her 1957 picture when I met her in 1979.
The caption under the picture read, “….Grounded is the way Mrs. William Blair describes her plight as a result of her doctor’s orders in treating an arthritic ailment. She is unable to walk and must not try to walk for at least two months. She is wheeled to and from her desk at Blair’s twice daily in a wheelchair.”
LaVon Blair was a very special lady who touched my life for a very brief moment in time but her words of wisdom will be with me forever. When I tell the story of my friend LaVon, people think I’m joking because I always say, “We went to school together,” but that’s exactly how our friendship started.
In early 1979, I moved back to Richmond from Virginia Beach, Va. I was a 23-year-old mother of two small boys and in the process of getting a divorce. It wasn’t a happy time for me because I never dreamed I would ever be divorced.
Mac McCalley was my lawyer. His daughter Katie and I had been friends in school, so I knew I was in good hands and I wouldn’t need to worry about any of the legal issues. My emotions were running high and this is where a miracle happened because LaVon Blair walked into my life.
I guess that’s a poor choice of words because I never knew LaVon without her wheelchair, but I never really thought of her as being handicapped.
My sister Jane had worked for LaVon one summer and somehow with this connection LaVon and I became friends and went back to school together at Maple Woods College in Kansas City.
I was attending college for the first time and LaVon already had a business degree from UMKC, but she wanted to attend a business class, so our journey started. We always took her car because she had a special way of getting in her car from her wheelchair.
We would laugh and talk all the way to the city and then I would wheel her to her class and then go on to my class. Our age difference didn’t matter. We became fast friends and talked about many different things. Our conversations got deep and she was just the friend I needed at that time in my life.
I’ve had many friends in my 55 years and one thing I’ve learned is there are friends and then there are people that would do anything for you, anytime, any place, who have your back covered. That’s the kind of friend I had in LaVon.
In April of 1979, I went to court and was granted a divorce by Judge Charles Sloan. The first thing I did when I walked out of the Ray County Courthouse was go visit my friend LaVon. She always had a smile and a way of making you understand that things were going to be fine.
LaVon gave me hope for the future, but she also gave me a gift that I still use, 33 years later. She gave me a book, “The Art of Selfishness”. I was shocked by the title, but after reading it, I understood why she gave it to me. It was the No. 1 New York Times bestseller in November 1937 and was reprinted many times. The author, Dr. David Seabury, used real-life stories as examples. His stories prove that what is good for you is invariably good for others. It’s not about being selfish. It’s about taking care of yourself so you can be the person you were created to be and then everything else falls in to place. If you are doing what is right for you, it will also be right for everyone else. LaVon was a very wise person and I will always be grateful for her giving me this book.
In the same Richmond News, I found another story that made me appreciate LaVon even more. On April 8, 1957, the paper ran the following ad: “Thrilling –Fun Packed, Hypnotic Marvels with Professor George Singer, Famous Hypnotist, Wednesday night, 8:00 o’clock, Richmond High School. Admission $1. Sponsored by Blair’s and Jaycees. Tickets at the Door, Blair’s Furniture or Jaycee Members.”
LaVon died on Jan. 8, 1984 after suffering a heart attack at her home. She had been married to Bill and they had three children, Jan, Judy and Jerry. They also had five grandchildren.
At the time of her death she was owner of the Discovery Cassette Exchange, an educational tape rental company. She had also been co-owner of the Blair Western Auto store in Richmond from 1942 to 1970. LaVon was instrumental in the founding of the Ray County Library, active in Girl Scouts and Eastern Star.
The 1973 Ray Country History Book has a picture of LaVon standing on the steps of the Women’s Club as the new Ray County Library was dedicated as an occupant of that building. I love our county library and I plan on supporting it for the rest of my days just as LaVon did.
There’s a page in this same 1973 book about LaVon, her family and their store. One of the stories told about when the family moved the store east of town. It was completed in time for a Thanksgiving dance for the young people of Richmond and Lexington, which was in honor of their daughter Judy’s 18th birthday.
I found a picture in the Dec. 13, 1966 Richmond News that had the following caption, “handsome new building on highway 10 East that will be the site of Blair’s Western Auto, Furniture and Gift Store to open sometime after Christmas.” I can’t think of any better way for the Blairs to christen their new store than hosting a party for their daughter’s 18th birthday.
Around 15 years ago, I was asked to give a speech to the Richmond University Women. Since I was representing the Ray County Library Friends group, I decided to give a talk about some of my favorite books.
I took a stack of books to the meeting and shared a little about each one. I had a 1840s Bible that was full of someone’s lifelong collection of four-leaf clovers and a variety of other really cool old books. Then I pulled out my tattered peach-colored book, “The Art of Selfishness.”
After hearing about LaVon’s book, many of the ladies asked if they could see it. It was obvious that LaVon touched many lives besides mine, in her 67 years on this earth.
Coming in my next column is the rest of the story about Blair’s “Hypnotic Marvel” and some other cool things that were going on around town, like who was the first guest at the Rose Court Motel when it opened on April 9, 1957.
You can write Linda at Raycohistory@aol.com.