Chester Pike (Spike) Avery, Jr. passed away on Thursday, September 8, 2022, at his home in Alexandria, Virginia. He was 85 years old.
Chet was born on August 1, 1937, in Sanford, Maine to florists Chester Sr. and Gladys Avery. At the age of 16, he began to lose vision in his left eye, and he became fully blind at the age of 17. After attending the Carroll Center for the Blind, he returned to complete high school in his hometown of Sanford, where he graduated as President of the Class. He then matriculated at Harvard University, graduating as a member of the Class of 1960 with a B.A. in History. He remained at Harvard as he pursued his M.A. in Counseling and Education and remembered his Cambridge years with tremendous fondness.
During his graduate studies, Chet met fellow Harvard student Sabra Allen. Though Sabra politely declined the cinnamon drops he offered to share, she found him quite to her taste. They married a year later, and welcomed their son, Bradford B. Avery, in 1964. They moved to Alexandria three years later.
Chet Avery was a lifelong advocate of disability justice and welfare, and of Civil Rights more generally. In 1978, he successfully contested his exclusion from serving on a jury panel due to his blindness. He worked as Director of the Office of Handicapped Concerns at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and later at the Department of Education. In this capacity, he worked to secure the rights of people with disabilities, overseeing the implementation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – the first disability civil rights law enacted in the United States, which protects qualified individuals from discrimination based on their disability.
Chet was a voracious reader and filmgoer and was a strong proponent of ensuring that media – particularly film and television – was accessible to blind and low-vision audiences. He was a member of the Board of Directors of the Washington Ear and a close associate of the American Council of the Blind’s Audio Description Project.
In his personal life, Chet was a lively, intelligent, and fiercely independent man. He had a wicked sense of humor and a flair for storytelling. His son Brad grew up with vivid tales of the “Blue Monstro,” and recalls being awoken by his father’s spirited caterwauling and the occasional early-morning wrestling match. His granddaughters were treated to stories of pirates that sailed the waters of Square Pond, where his family spent their summers, and always made sure to help the pirates by leaving some sort of treasure waiting for the girls on the sand.
Chet Avery is much loved and will be missed. While no service is planned for the present time, his family welcomes all who knew Chet to share their memories of him on the memorial.
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