“Every love story is beautiful, but ours is my favorite.”

love-dating-relationships-375x264I met Bryan McMurray years ago when we were both in Champaign-Urbana at the University of Illinois. Bryan was born blind, and his wife Joanna uses a power wheelchair — she contracted juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when she was five. Bryan graciously agreed to write a Valentine’s Day post about their relationship, and this is part one of a two-part series.

by Bryan McMurray

We have a number of precious and very poignant plaques situated tastefully around our house out here in sunny Tempe, Arizona. I can’t read any of them. I’ve been blind all my life, but my darling Joanna reads them to me any time I ask. There’s one particular plaque I implore her to read often, just so I can hear her lovely voice recite it one more time. That plaque says, “Every love story is beautiful, But ours is my favorite.”

It began just like in the movies: we really did meet in an elevator. The elevator was in an intensive-French school located in a quaint little village called Val Saint Andre, just up a steep hill from a picturesque town in the south of France called Aix en Provence. I realized right away this sweet-sounding girl with the slight accent was in a manual wheelchair. That was fine by me. I am just a couple of inches over five feet tall, and I tended to like girls who didn’t have a big height advantage.

Back then, in the winter of 1975, I was 21 and a fourth-year junior at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. Joanna was an 18-year-old who, like me, loved languages and adventure and trying improbable things long before any law or Congressional Act mandated help for people with disabilities.

I quickly discovered that Joanna was a Canadian from a snowy city 500 miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia (hence that sweet little accent). One of her claims to “fame” was that at the age of 5, she’d contracted one of the worst cases of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis recorded in Canada.

We soon discovered that our backgrounds, our family and life experiences, even our disabilities, couldn’t have been more different and contrasting. I was an agnostic Hedonist child who’d grown up in a rough-and-tumble hard-drinking family on the South Side of Chicago during the late 60s. Joanna grew up in a home with a religious family who imparted strength and values to shine wherever she found herself. They did indeed shine brightly in France, and her strong, loving influence helped persuade me that her way and a road less traveled was the way I wanted to walk also.

We stayed close for several years, and even contemplated joining our lives together in marriage, but a set of unusual and extraordinary circumstances conspired to separate our lives. We experienced, in fact, such a dramatic separation, that we had no contact at all for 10 years.

Ah! But, this part of our story, with its whats and whys, must remain for another time, another campfire in another place. I will only say here, dear reader, that God brought our lives back together 22 years ago, through miraculous, unexpected ways. After that, we felt the liberty, the inexorable compulsion, to unite our lives in a marriage that every day grows more wonderful, more amazing, more of the blast we thought it might be all those years ago.

Stay tuned for part two of this blog post when Bryan gives examples of how he and his wife combine their skills to complete tasks efficiently around the house –like cooking.

See all of our stories on love and relationships at easterseals.com/love.


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    hey did indeed shine brightly in France, and her strong, loving influence helped persuade me that her way and a road less traveled was the way I wanted to walk also.

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  24. Dr. Thomas M. Caulfield Says:

    Bryan spoke at our son’s graduation party. Tremendous in his support of those students with challenges in their lives!

    Please let Bryan know my contact information as I would like to connect with him after nearly 20 years being colleagues back in Illinois


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