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Local Heroes


Blind Activist Targets Drug Disposal

Glorian Quigley helps older adults discard outdated medicines in an eco-friendly way

blind California senior activist

Photo courtesy of Bob Ross

Blind activist Glorian Quigley is helping seniors get rid of old medicines in an environmentally conscious manner.

Glorian Quigley is blind, but her vision for community service is sharper than that of many people who can see.

In October 2009 the 87-year-old Santa Clara, Calif., resident launched an initiative to help older adults discard outdated medicines in a safe and environmentally conscious way. Now, the campaign is expanding to seven other cities in Santa Clara County.

"We have our cabinets full of a lot that's just sitting there," says Quigley, who voluntarily coordinates the Don't Dump Drugs Down Drains program — or 5Ds for short. "If you wrap it up and put it in your garbage, it goes into the waste, and ultimately, goes down into underground water."

Under the program, residents can drop off unwanted medications at the police department or request a pickup by a volunteer. When a volunteer visits a home, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration requires a police officer to be present. So, from the beginning, Quigley enlisted the involvement of the Santa Clara Police Department, which destroys the drugs.

During a three-month pilot project, "we went to 15 households," Quigley says. "And we carried away an average of a pound and a half of pills" — from each home.

Well connected

Program volunteer Dell Boccignone, 75, has picked up most of the unneeded prescription and over-the-counter medicines and vitamins from older residents. He has known Quigley since 1983.

"She is almost a Mother Teresa type in that she doesn't take 'no' for an answer," says Boccignone, a retired pharmacist who lives in Santa Clara. Quigley's contacts include members of city councils, members of boards of supervisors and heads of water districts.

"She has the skill and tenacity necessary to bring very busy and influential people together," Boccignone says.

Several Rolodexes in braille come in handy whenever Quigley needs to call officials, community leaders, family and friends. She uses a braille typewriter to record phone numbers. And last fall, her recipes were published in Grandma Glorian's Cookies cookbook, with proceeds benefiting Books Aloud for the visually and physically impaired.

"For people losing their sight, they're probably afraid of the word 'braille,' " Quigley says. Once she got used to it, "it's like riding a bicycle."

Supports many causes

Retinitis pigmentosa struck when Quigley was in her early 40s. Within 10 years, the degenerative condition stole her sight.

Luckily, she has lived in the same home for 62 years and knows her way around. Her husband, Robert, labeled the temperature controls of appliances and the thermostat in braille before his death at age 85 in 2002.

Glorian Quigley had worked as executive director of the Santa Clara County Mental Health Association for 22 years. Among the endeavors she led was establishing a mental health ward at a local hospital, a suicide and crisis hotline, and a school for autistic children ages 6 to 8.

Working with the American Cancer Society, she and her husband successfully fought for a county-wide indoor smoking ban and collected funds and food for homeless shelters. They persuaded Microsoft to support a program that taught blind people how to use computers.

Pass it on

Nowadays, volunteers from Heart of the Valley Services for Seniors, where Quigley serves on the board, make it possible for the great-grandmother and other older people to remain independent. They do everything from changing light bulbs to gardening and driving people to medical appointments.

It's from that organization that Quigley, a San Jose native, recruits volunteers for the Don't Dump Drugs Down Drains campaign. She lives by the philosophy of "whatever God gives us in blessing, we must pass on to others."

Quigley's energy and enthusiasm encourage others to embrace her cause. "I am absolutely convinced that she wakes up every morning thinking about what she can do to make somebody else's life better," says Steve Lodge, 53, the retired Santa Clara chief of police who has been part of the anti-dumping effort from the beginning.

His colleague, San Rafael police Chief Diana Bishop, adds that "she is charming and has a way about her that makes you want to do what she asks." Bishop, 50, hopes to replicate the collection initiative in her city. "The world needs more people like Mrs. Quigley."

You may also like: Medicines from A to Z. >>

Susan Kreimer is a writer in New York.

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