In April 2008, Mary McVicker Scroggs arrived at the Pere Marquette Hotel in Peoria, Illinois. The occasion was one of celebration. Mary was being honored by the American Red Cross for her work with drunk drivers and was presented with the Heartland Hero award for citizenship. It was both a triumphant and eerie moment for Mary. The emotions were mixed. It had been four years since her last visit to the Pere Marquette; four years since the day she had unsuccessfully attempted suicide.
On July 14, 1994, Mary was in the top shape of her life. A hobby cyclist, she had biked 6,000 miles that year. This would prove to save her life. While outside of the Caterpillar World Headquarters in Peoria, she found herself suddenly pinned under the body of a drunk driver’s automobile. The incident, which Mary makes a point to call “the crime,” left her blind in the left eye and partially paralyzed the right side of her face. This traumatic experience marked the day she and her husband became “soul mates.”
Mary and Bob met through a mutual friend and were married 3 months after spending 10 consecutive days and a weekend together. After Mary’s rehab, they moved to Arizona and spent countless hours riding on a tandem bike to continue sharing the hobby that resembled their lives before the accident. During this time they made a pact: to honor how close they had become in life, they vowed to die together. This innocently romantic pledge of eternal companionship became all too real in May of 2004 when Bob was diagnosed with lung cancer.
Bob passed away in July of 2004, and Mary found herself making extensive plans to carry out her promise, including the arrangement to have a dual memorial. She moved back to Peoria and made her plans known to a very good friend of hers who accompanied Mary to the Pere Marquette Hotel. That night Mary took a host of sleeping pills. Shirley (the accompanying friend), unable to live with the idea of witnessing Mary’s death, rushed Mary to the hospital to have her stomach pumped.
Neither the suicide attempt nor the drunk driving accident registered in Mary’s memory. A new lease on life had come as a result of these experiences, not in spite of them. After the car accident, she became affiliated with the Red Cross’ Victim Impact Panel where she began to speak to 80 people a month who receive DUI tickets, hoping to influence their future decisions to drive while intoxicated. She also travelled Peoria, speaking to high schools and community organizations to spread a message that she hoped would save lives.
Mary proceeded to explain another issue that is close to her heart.
“If you take a US dollar bill out of your pocket, hold it in your hands and close your eyes, you can’t tell how much money you’ve got. We were in Australia right before the accident and I noticed that they had different sized bills. I thought Ã«Wow how neat that would be for someone who is blind.’ Not knowing that in the next 3 months, I would be blind.”
Mary goes on to describe her crusade to assist the 1 out of 30 Americans who, because of visual impairments, are unable to identify their currency. The issue of making U.S. currency tactile has gained steam from a number of organizations. Among these is Mary’s own website, www.blinddollars.org, where she prompts citizens to contact their local legislature to bring the issue to the forefront of political debates.
“If our currency was tactile, Unemployment would go down because then people can work where cash gets dealt with.”
Mary’s efforts describe the printing of tactile monies as a “win-win.” And as I leave her home in downtown Peoria, she hands me certified proof of that victory. Federal courts have ruled that upon the next redesign, all U.S. dollar bills MUST be made accessible to the blind and other visually impaired persons. Mary admits to believing this triumph is one of the reasons she is still alive. She has found purpose â hers is a life seemingly destined to affect the lives of others.
Even Mary’s dog Cruiser, which she received 2 years ago, is getting into the act. She has signed Cruiser up to be a therapy dog. He visits people in nursing homes and hospitals to give the love and support he has given Mary in some of the harder times in her life.
So goes the story of Mary finding herself at the Pere Marquette once again. The Heartland Hero Award was confirmation of Mary’s efforts to simply live her own life to the best of her abilities. When asked, Mary doesn’t see herself as a hero. She can, however, attest to the fact that this hotel is home to a failure that sparked a mountain of successes. A champion for all walks of life, Mary’s heroism will prove most visible to those who can see the least.