Sharpe, Yates Lived BVA Motto
By Stuart Nelson and Charlie “CT” Vasile
BVA recently witnessed the passing of two of its most prominent members. Although they did so in different ways, Skip Sharpe and AJ Yates each dedicated much of their adult lives to helping other blinded veterans, both locally and nationally. They were fixtures at BVA national conventions and touched others’ lives in a variety of ways through their actions as role models. They both persevered in life with positive attitudes and a sense of humor.
Ellsworth “Skip” Sharpe
Skip Sharpe, pictured in 1995 just prior to 50th Anniversary convention in Arlington, Virginia.
Ellsworth L. “Skip” Sharpe passed away on July 11, 2016. Funeral services were held three days later with interment July 18 at Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Agawam, Massachusetts.
Although Skip was known most recently for his “sharpe” humor and wit as Chairman of the Bylaws and Resolutions Committees at the national conventions, he was a leading BVA figurehead at the national level for more than three decades.
Skip was raised in the town of Agawam. He always claimed to be a New Englander at heart despite living elsewhere for much of his life.
He was elected the 23rd National President of BVA at the 36th National Convention in Arlington, Virginia on August 15, 1981. He was left legally blind from an accident while serving in the U.S. Air Force, where he was commissioned as an officer to fulfill his aspiration to be a pilot. Prior to entering the service he received a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts. Following his retirement from the service, he attended Springfield College in Massachusetts and earned a Master’s Degree in Education.
After teaching Mathematics courses at Agawam High School for two years, Skip returned to college at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he completed the course work for a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1965. Shortly thereafter, he began work at NASA in Newport News, Virginia, and later the agency’s Langley Research Center in Northern Virginia. During his 16 years with NASA, Skip engaged in applied research directed toward developing lightweight and reliable thermal protection systems for hypersonic aircraft and space re-entry vehicles.
While working for NASA, Skip received the Apollo Achievement Award in 1969. He was also nominated as the Langley Research Center’s Outstanding Handicapped Employee in both 1977 and 1978. He won the distinction the second time. He received the University of Massachusetts Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award in 1979.
From 1981 until his retirement in 1999 Skip worked for the Food and Drug Administration as a biomedical engineer.
Prior to his election as National President, Skip served two years as National Secretary and two years as National Vice President. He also served two terms as a regional group president and was the Director of District 3 from 1992 until 1998. At the completion of Bylaws and Resolutions Committee meetings and voting sessions at Closing Business Sessions, some of which could be quite contentious, he always generated laughter and applause with the usual self-congratulatory “Another flawless, outstanding job by the Skipper.”
Skip is survived by his wife, Carol McDonald Sharpe of Newport News, his four children, and four grandchildren. The family has directed that memorial contributions be sent to BVA in Skip’s name and memory
In August 2004, AJ Yates, Chairman of the BVA 59th National Convention in Reno, Nevada, and wife Corie. The couple organized several of the convention events.
AJ Yates was born on January 3, 1939 and passed away this past August 3. He was an honorably discharged Air Force Veteran who served in Vietnam and Japan. Upon his return to the states as a low-vision veteran, he applied for and became a Regional Benefits Counselor for the Blinded Veterans Association in the Seattle, Washington area in the mid-1970s.
In 1979, AJ applied for and was selected to be the Regional Benefits Consultant at the Western Blind Rehabilitation Center (WBRC) located within the Palo Alto Veterans Health Care Center in Palo Alto, California. As such he was responsible for covering veterans in the 12 western states.
In 1981, AJ was promoted to Assistant Director of the WBRC. In this position he was a key “ground floor” contributor to developing the Family Training Program, the Computer Training Program, the Division of Vision and Aging Program, and the Alumni Program. He was a ground floor contributor in the development of job descriptions for blind rehabilitation staff that resulted in promotion from a Government Pay Schedule level GS-9 to a GS-11. All of the above precedent-setting programs and pay promotions would not have taken place without the contributing efforts of AJ Yates. In addition, all of these achievements were used as templates that were implemented by the VA BRCs nationally.
In 1987, for medical reasons, it was necessary for AJ to retire from the BRC. Still dedicated to serving blinded veterans, however, AJ soon proceeded to help organize and establish the present-day BVA Central California Regional Group (CCRG). The CCRG became a holistic organization, assisting and serving blinded veterans with counseling for benefits, medical care, and housing, to name just a few areas. It became one of the stronger BVA regional groups and less dependent on BVA National Headquarters than many of the others.
AJ Yates proudly served his fellow veterans for decades. Along the way he literally touched the lives of thousands—veterans, their families, and others who serve them.
Most importantly at this difficult time for AJ’s wife, Mrs. Corie Yates, she must be recognized and commended for her total support of and commitment to her husband’s lifelong dedication to America’s blinded veterans.
AJ’s friendship and dedication will always be remembered and memorialized in our hearts and mind.
Corie has indicated that a memorial fund was not set up for donations to the CCRG but that such donations could be made in AJ’s name to BVA National Headquarters. She hopes that contributions will benefit the Kay Gruber or Tom Miller scholarship awards.