Bringing Chess to Visually Impaired People

The Gazette - May 2016

Edited by Julie Leonard
The views expressed in the Gazette do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the BCA, nor those of the editor.

Harry Beevers

Longstanding BCA member, Harry Beevers, passed away on the 24th of January, aged 86. Harry lived in Castleford, West Yorkshire, and had been suffering with serious health problems for a couple of years.

Despite having been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at a young age, Harry attended Castleford Grammar School and completed his National Service before starting work as a history teacher in a secondary modern school. He organised the school cross country running team and was interested in weightlifting. Harry married Muriel and they had a son, Michael. However, Harry’s sight deteriorated in the 1950s, possibly as a result of an anti-malarial drug that he had been given while serving in East Africa. On being registered blind, Harry decided to retrain as a Braille shorthand typist after which he found employment with the local authority.

Before long, tragedy struck the family. Muriel died when Michael was just ten years old. In time, Harry was introduced to Joan by a mutual acquaintance at church. Joan and Harry married and went on to have a son, Mark.

In 1977, Harry joined a BCA squad and travelled to Austria for a chess tournament. Harry spoke no German so when he wished to talk to a local Roman Catholic priest who knew no English, the two conversed in Latin! Harry continued his interest in chess by playing postal games against other BCA members. He used to put his guide dog on “autopilot” when walking to the office so that he could work out his next moves!

Harry was passionate about quizzes! He enjoyed setting the questions and acting as quizmaster as well as taking part. His quiz team competed at national level, with Harry specialising in sport, especially Yorkshire cricket! He was also active in a general knowledge quiz league in his local area and appeared on several TV quiz shows, including Fifteen to One.

Naturally, the internet is a powerful tool when it comes to researching quiz questions so Harry was keen to get to grips with using a computer. In 2001, with this aim in mind, he requested assistance from St. Dunstan’s, the charity now known as Blind Veterans UK. They quickly spotted Harry’s talents and asked him to join their team of speakers who travelled to various locations giving talks on sight loss in order to raise awareness. Harry’s patch was mainly Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Lancashire, though on one occasion he went to Northern Ireland to address a group of eye specialists at the Royal Belfast Hospital.

Harry also became very active in raising funds for Blind Veterans UK. At the age of 76, he teamed up with a school friend to cycle a tandem from London to Brighton. The ride took place on a day when temperatures were in the nineties and the tarmac was melting. Spectators along the route were throwing water at the cyclists to cool them down! Undeterred, Harry went on to do the London to Brighton charity cycle ride on three further occasions. Also, Harry remembered seeing parachutes as a boy and had been fascinated by them ever since. He had always wanted to have a go himself and when he was 78, he fulfilled this ambition by completing a charity tandem jump with the Red Devils!

In recognition of Harry’s huge contribution to Blind Veterans UK, he was chosen to be one of their representatives at a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in June 2015 to mark the charity’s centenary. Harry was ill that summer, but his determination to go to the palace was such that a small inconvenience like being in hospital was not going to stand in his way. Sure enough, with just a week to spare, Harry was discharged and shortly afterwards he proudly travelled to London with Joan to attend the special occasion.

Sincere condolences to Joan, Michael and Mark on their loss. Grateful thanks to Joan for kindly sparing the time to talk to me about Harry and supplying me with the information needed to write this piece.

Julie Leonard