Beaudesert’s Roy Veltheim is a creature of habit. He has two Weet-Bix for breakfast in the morning and, for a treat, he might have a XXXX Gold at night.
When he walks into town to buy the newspaper for his wife, Marg, he always goes the same way, and he can tell when he’s walking past McDonalds and KFC because of the smell.
Being habitual has long been a way of life for Roy, 77, who was born with hereditary condition, retinitis pigmentosa, and only has 1 per cent of his vision left.
Roy’s mum also had the condition, which only started to be recognised in the mid-80s, and about a third of his grandchildren and great grandchildren have it too.
Roy and Marg each earned an OAM in 2018 for service to people who are blind or who have low vision.
They got together as teenagers, they’re coming up to 55 years of marriage, and they work as a team, cherishing their 2 kids, 6 grandkids and 5 great-grandkids and serving the community.
They are life members of Guide Dogs Queensland (Roy has used a guide dog since 2008) and fundraisers for the charity.
They founded Beaudesert Region Vision Impaired Persons Supporters Group in 2001 and are founding members of Retina Australia (formerly Queensland), established in 1989.
They have visited schools and community groups across the region and as far north as Cairns to spread educational messages about blindness.
In an age of social media, Roy still believes nothing beats face to face contact with people.
“Our home is basically open to people with vision impairment, and people come and look at my vision aids and I have a reading device to do the crossroads and read the paper,” he said.
Roy got his first job as an apprentice motor mechanic at Blunck’s Garage in January 1960, then worked for Brian Ward until 1987, when his eyesight started letting him down.
He made the tough decision to surrender his driver’s licence – and what felt like his independence – when he was 42, as his eyesight continued to decline.
In between all that, when Roy was 23 it came to light that he’d been born with a hole in his heart. In 1974, he overcame his biggest challenge when he had open heart surgery at the age of 30, with a 50/50 chance he’d survive. He lived to tell the tale and now has one of the longest-serving mechanical valves in Queensland.
“People ask me how I handle blindness and I say to them if you’ve got a disability and you accept it, 80 per cent of your battle is over. It’s no good sitting in a corner saying, ‘poor me’,” he said.
“I’m fortunate at my age to still have some sight – we know people who were born blind. I know the colour of the ocean, sky and grass and I know what good looking ladies look like. If I was born blind, I’d have to imagine that.”