Obituaries

Bill McMahon, 58, golfer who inspired others after going blind

Mr. McMahon taught blind golfers and finished in the top 10 in the US Blind Golf Association’s national championship.

Globe Staff/file 2014

Mr. McMahon taught blind golfers and finished in the top 10 in the US Blind Golf Association’s national championship.

Bill McMahon, who lost his eyesight at age 25, believed that his “active mind” helped him become a nationally ranked blind golfer.

“I’ll hear the leaves of a tree blowing in the wind and know immediately that it’s a big maple,” he told the Globe in 2004. “I can still picture the texture of the grass and the white sand in the bunkers. I know how short a green’s been cut by walking on it.”

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A caddy and later an accomplished golfer at Shorehaven Golf Club in Norwalk, Conn., adjacent to his family’s home, Mr. McMahon was a youngster when he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

One day in 1983 while he was playing golf in Florida, a diabetes-related retinal hemorrhage triggered his blindness — along with a period of depression. “I was in shock,” he said in 2014. “They were the toughest two weeks of my life, and then one day I woke up and said, ‘The hell with this. I want to live a normal life.’ ”

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Mr. McMahon, who had served on the boards of the US Blind Golf Association, the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, and the Framingham Lions Club, died in his Framingham home April 13 of renal failure. He was 58.

While Mr. McMahon was a student at the Carroll Center in 1984, he met the great blind golf champion Joe Lazaro of Waltham during a Hope for the Blind tournament at Marlborough Country Club.

“He was 40 years older than me,” Mr. McMahon recalled in 2014, adding that “we hit it off and he encouraged me. I began playing in tournaments with him a year later. He’d always say, ‘Kid, want to go hit some balls?’ And he became my mentor.”

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Mr. McMahon “used to come home on weekends while attending the Center, but then he was able to move to Framingham to live independently for the next 33 years,” said his brother Kevin of Southport, Conn., who donated a kidney to him in 1996. “Bill’s life was far more than what one would call challenging, but he never complained and he persevered.”

In 2014, Mr. McMahon told the Globe that after losing his sight, “not a day has gone by when I haven’t thought about playing, talking about, or introducing golf to others.”

He finished in the top 10 in the US Blind Golf Association’s national championship, and he also was a fixture at the Guiding Eyes for the Blind Golf Classic at Mount Kisco Country Club in New York.

Over the years, Mr. McMahon instructed blind golfers from the Carroll Center and the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown at annual clinics held at the MGA Links in Norton. He also cofounded Golf for All, the flagship program of the Northeast Accessible Golf Association.

“I’ll always remember a question I was asked by a parent, ‘How can my child, who is totally blind, play golf?’ And I said, ‘Through communication we can make you and your son a team and play the game as one,’ ” he told the Globe.

Carol Covell, who chairs the Carroll Center’s Board of Directors, said Mr. McMahon “was a very patient man with a wonderful manner. He was an amazing man, loyal to the Center, and I will miss him.”

He was named a Melvin Jones fellow by the Lions Club International Foundation for his volunteer work. Mr. McMahon also was recognized as Blind Employee of the Year by the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind.

‘I always felt he was the teacher and I was the learner.’

The Rev. Paul Harman, director of Special Projects in Mission at the College of the Holy Cross, on blind golfer Bill McMahon 
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From 1992 through 2011, the Bill McMahon Golf Classic at Shorehaven raised nearly $1 million for juvenile diabetes research. “I’m proud of that, and it shows that although I’ve been dealt some lousy cards in my life, I’ve played them as well as I could,” Mr. McMahon told the Globe in 2014.

Learning to be mobile, he recalled in a 1997 interview, was tougher than returning to the golf course as a sightless player. “You feel like everyone is watching you as you bang into a cabinet,” he said, but with golf, “everyone hits bad shots, so when I hit a bad shot, it is no big deal. But when I hit a good one, everyone is amazed.”

For more than two decades, Mr. McMahon was coached by Kevin Sullivan, whom he met at a Lions Club tournament in Northborough. Sullivan would put the club in Mr. McMahon’s hands and place it behind the ball. He also would offer verbal instructions, including lining up putts. “With us it was a team sport,” Sullivan said.

“Other than that,” Mr. McMahon joked in 2014, “I play the same way as Tiger Woods.”

Mr. McMahon traveled the world through golf, prompting Sullivan to observe that “what always sticks in my mind is what Bill once told me, that his blindness has taken him places his sight never would have.”

The oldest of four brothers, William Henry McMahon IV was a son of William III, an attorney, and the former Eleanor Devine.

He attended Fairfield College Preparatory School in Connecticut and graduated from the College of the Holy Cross with a bachelor’s degree in English.

The Rev. Paul Harman, a Jesuit who is a longtime friend and director of Special Projects in Mission at Holy Cross, said he has held up the example of Mr. McMahon’s life to inspire others, “and I always felt he was the teacher and I was the learner.”

Mr. McMahon was general manager of a large retail golf store in Norwalk before he lost his sight. After moving to Framingham, he worked for many years in sales for the former Consolidated Group Trust.

In addition to his brother Kevin, Mr. McMahon leaves his brothers Paul of Acton and Eugene of Newtown, Pa.

Services have been held in East Norwalk, Conn., and Framingham. Mr. McMahon was buried beside his parents at St. John’s Cemetery in Norwalk.

“I am sure Bill had his fears, but he never lost the courage to push ahead and for him courage was a daily operating procedure,” Paul said. “Imagine what it took to wake up in total darkness – then shaving, showering, getting dressed, taking medications, making breakfast, and then going to the office.”

In his eulogy, Harman noted that from the time Mr. McMahon lost his sight, “he began to pay so much more attention to thousands of ordinary things that most of us no longer even see. He paid special attention to all the love, the friendship, the kindness that came his way. If we learn to be more attentive in our lives, we will be all the more aware of how much we were given in Bill McMahon.”

Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.
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