the agriculturist

new sightNew Sight

Story and Photo by Laurie Bellah-Strebeck


Rob Brown was told time and time again he was just plain dumb. In elementary school, he stayed in from recess to finish his work. Following each word with his finger was essential while reading. His eyes only allowed less than an inch of the text at a time to be visible, so if Rob lost his place he was lost forever.

Taking notes in college was impossible. He relied heavily on his strong memory in every aspect of his life. It wasn’t until he was 52 years old that Rob Brown gained new sight.

Rob is a 1958 Texas Tech University graduate and was named Distinguished Alumnus for the university in 1986 and for the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources in 1987. He is the owner of the R.A. Brown Ranch, former American Quarter Horse Association president, and Golden Spur Award recipient − an honor bestowed upon the nation’s leading rancher. Known for his love and dedication to the ranching industry, Rob may be best recognized by his yellow glasses.

These colored glasses are the result of fate. On a Sunday night in 1988, Rob was planning to watch the Dallas Cowboys. While flipping through the channels, Rob was compelled to set down the remote when he came to 60 Minutes.

A special program was airing about the Irlen Method. Viewed as highly skeptical in the medical world, it was a method for helping people with reading problems, including dyslexia. By using colored overlays and filters, the new technique involved filtering the amount of light that hits the retina. Each individual can require a different color depending on his or her specific need.

As Rob watched the show with captivation, he realized the similarities between his lifetime struggle with reading and the people being helped on 60 Minutes.

“It was like they were talking about me," he recalled.

While the TV show provided a solution, 52 years of not being able to read was a challenge. With patience, persistence and the help of a few caring individuals, Rob found success.

Rob struggled with reading beginning in elementary school. It took him longer to finish his assignments and staying after school for tutoring was routine. Most teachers labeled Rob’s difficulties with reading as “dumb,” but not Mrs. Condron.

Rob’s second grade teacher, who was just 19 at the time, knew Rob was a bright student. She was kind and patient with the struggling boy and reassured him there was something causing his reading problems.

Rob said, “Growing up there were two women who made sure I knew I wasn’t dumb, my mother and Mrs. Condron.”

Mrs. Condron knew there must be a reason Rob struggled with reading but excelled in other subjects. She viewed Rob’s struggle with reading as a mystery she wanted to solve.

With a lot of listening, extra time, a good memory and help from his mother, Rob made it through elementary and high school. He set his sights on what was then known as Texas Technological College.

In 1954, Rob’s parents dropped him off in Lubbock to pursue a bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry.

“I doubt seriously that Mother and Dad ever dreamed I’d get a college education,” Rob said.   “You know, you’re not supposed to be able to go to college if you can’t read and spell.

Rob’s girlfriend Peggy played a major role in helping him through college. She edited papers, read aloud and was a constant support.

“She picked up where my mother left off,” Rob said, while smiling at his now wife of 54 years. “I couldn’t have gotten through school or had the success I’ve had in my life without her.”

Peggy said Rob was quite successful in college. President of the sophomore class, president of his fraternity, a member of the livestock judging team, and nominated as “most handsome,” Rob was very social and popular while at Texas Tech.

“Yes, he had a hard time in school, but I don’t think a lot of people realized it,” Peggy said while flipping through their college scrapbook. “He always had resilience. He’d always try to make it up in some other way.”

Taking notes fast enough was impossible for Rob and listening carefully was crucial for passing a class. What he couldn’t get done with his eyes, he got done with his ears.

“God gave me a super memory to compensate for my weaknesses,” Rob said.

Rob continued to find ways to cope with his reading challenge. Finally in 1957, his second grade teacher Mrs. Condron approached him after church and told Rob she solved the mystery of what caused his hardship with reading.

“It’s called dyslexia,” she said.

Rob was comforted to know there really was something wrong with him, but in 1957 there was very little information on the causes or treatments
for dyslexia.

“It was nice to know there was a name for what I had, and it wasn’t spelled d-u-m-b,” he said with a laugh.

Rob graduated from Texas Tech in 1958 with a bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry and a B+ grade point average. He then returned home to pursue his passion for animal breeding and genetics on the his family’s ranch in Throckmorton, Texas.

Rob lived 52 years without ever reading an entire book. After seeing that special on 60 Minutes, he was proactive in getting help for his dyslexia. Traveling to Ardmore, Okla., and getting tested using the Irlen Method changed Rob’s life.

“I’ll never forget when she put that yellow color in between me and the book, I could see the entire page in front of me,” Rob said. “It was something I’d never seen before.”

According to the Irlen Method website, people of all ages with dyslexia, autism, attention deficit disorder and many other reading related issues find the Irlen Method very helpful.

Rob loves telling others about his colorful glasses and is not a bit ashamed of his dyslexia.

Rob said, “I’m real proud to tell people why I wear ‘em. That’s how you help others.”

Rob never goes a day without his glasses. He now reads constantly and loves a good Elmer Kelton novel. His bookshelves are full of western novels, Texas history, sports biographies and American classics – all read in the past quarter of his life.

Every now and then, Peggy will wake up late at night to look over and see her husband, now 75 years old, sitting up in bed reading another Elmer Kelton or Louis L’Amour novel. She has given up asking him what he is doing because she knows what his answer will be.

“I have a lot of catching up to do.”