WILSON COUNTY, TENN., September 23, 2012– Throughout his 45 years, David never had to see where he was going to arrive at a place where he was destined to be.
David Ray Hunter found his way in life through faith, and raw determination; through a healthy sense of adventure, and the confidence of family and friends; through a positive attitude, and well-developed senses. A combination of all these things allowed him to go places and do things that most people haven’t, despite losing his eyesight in childhood. And no matter where he went or what he did, he seemed to always end up right where he belonged.
In 1955, a Lebanon man named Raymond Hunter and his wife had a son, but the baby only lived for 36 hours. The loss was heartbreaking, becoming more so as years went by and it became evident that the couple would never have children of their own. But there was a reason for that, Raymond would learn. In 1965, through adoption, they received a gift from God, a perfectly healthy, six-week-old boy named David. For the first of many times, Raymond’s son found himself in just the right place.
“I believe the reason we couldn’t have kids was because David was going to need us,” Raymond said. “We needed David too, and it wouldn’t have worked out that way if we had already had children. God had a plan.”
The care of a family would soon become even more vital for David. Early in childhood, he was examined by a doctor and referred to an ophthalmologist because of a problem in his left eye. The condition, called a drusen of the optic nerve, commonly affects peripheral vision but only rarely results in more extensive damage. In David’s case, the disease kept progressing, developed in his other eye by age six, and despite help from specialists, took away his vision completely by about age 10.
David’s reaction to his circumstances proved his uniqueness. Even as he adjusted to being blind, Raymond says, he was always upbeat and encouraged others. And he was certainly in the right family to deal with his condition – his parents never told him he couldn’t do something just because he was blind.
“He told us right away that he could still do everything if we’d just give him a chance,” Raymond said. “We always tried to go along with that, and he was right. It was amazing what he accomplished.”
First on his list was to keep up in school so he could train to be a minister. He attended Tennessee School for the Blind for a while and built up his skills, then transitioned to Lebanon High School with his original classmates. But before he could earn his diploma, he’d have another big hurdle to clear. In 1982, he lost both his mother and two grandparents, all of whom passed away within months of one other. But David persevered, and graduated with his class.
Remarkable as it was that he completed high school on schedule, David had his sights on much greater achievements, academic and otherwise. He’d researched colleges and settled on Carson-Newman, a Christian school in East Tennessee.
“The day before classes started, I led David around the campus so he’d know how to find all his classrooms,” Raymond said. “After we got to the last one, it was David who led me back to his room. Then the next day someone from the school called me because they couldn’t believe how well he was getting around everywhere. He could always do things like that, and we couldn’t explain how.”
David settled in at school quickly, and thrived academically. He once again found himself where God wanted him to be, and managed well away from home. After four years at college, he’d earned a bachelor’s degree in religion.
Education would be a lifelong pursuit for David, combining his propensity for learning with his Christian faith and spiritual growth. After Carson-Newman, he went to Adams State College in Colorado and earned a second bachelor’s degree, in music. Later, he attended Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, where once again he impressed faculty with his ability to find his way around campus. He impressed them again by earning three different master’s degrees in the space of two years, a first at that institution: one in religious education, one in church music and one in divinity. Several years after that, closer to home, he would earn a fourth master’s degree at Trevecca University, in counseling. Amid his academic training, David also entered the ministry, receiving his minister’s license in 1994. Using a Braille Bible that took up many feet of shelf space in his room, he’d commit passages and passages of scripture to memory.
Sharing the gospel and traveling were both strong interests of David’s, and he often combined the two. Once he traveled to the Holy Land with Raymond and a professor from Midwestern, Dr. Seat. While touring near the Sea of Galilee, David spoke before a group of college students, reciting the Sermon on the Mount and leading them in singing I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked. He also traveled alone on mission trips to Africa and Australia. At other times he and Raymond took pleasure trips to England, Europe and Moscow.
David also had other hobbies that were daring if not outright dangerous, especially for a person who couldn’t see. He learned snowboarding with the help of an instructor in Colorado, and would go there regularly. He learned to repel. He taught students ice skating while at Midwestern. Once he even drove a car for about a mile, just by taking vocal cues from Raymond, who continued to give David the freedom to experience life and try new things.
Other accomplishments were less risky but equally impressive. David kept track of all of Raymond’s household records on a computer, using vocal software. He played the piano well and with ease. He picked out the furniture for the house. He even helped Raymond herd his cattle, and by the sound of their bells, could tell Raymond how many were still left out in the field after the herd was driven home. Once, Raymond was riding home from Nashville with David in the seat next to him, and David let him know that he’d missed the Hwy. 109 exit. They had just passed it.
Whether at home with Raymond, or away at school, or traveling the world, David didn’t just survive being blind; he overachieved, and always challenged himself to do more. He was an example for others, and despite his disability, he seemed to be able to overcome anything.
Then came an obstacle that even David couldn’t overcome. In late 2010, he collapsed at home, coughing blood. Raymond rushed him to the hospital, and he was quickly transferred to Vanderbilt. Doctors eventually diagnosed him with stage four pancreatic cancer, and said he might only have a month to live, a year at most.
For five months, David battled. Raymond shuttled him back and forth to chemo treatments until he was no longer able to care for David at home. Even after moving to the hospital full time, David kept a positive outlook, and talked of going home. But the disease was too much, having taken almost half his body weight off his now-frail frame at age 45.
“I was holding his hand one day when I felt and sensed the real David leaving this world, escorted to heaven by angels,” Raymond said. “The next day was when he passed away. I know I’ll see him again, and there’s comfort in knowing that not only can he see again now, but he’s seen the face of God.”
For the final time, David has made his way to the place he truly belongs.
Just as he’d blessed others while living, David’s life continues to make an impact today. Not expecting to outlive his own son, Raymond, formerly an educator, had begun putting back money many years ago so that David would have all he needed after Raymond was gone. After David’s death, Raymond decided that money was best used continuing David’s work. He’s donated generously to a number of ministries that assist and encourage others or help spread the gospel. One of the local beneficiaries is Sherry’s Run, which through faith and love seeks to create an environment of hope, knowledge, assistance, support and compassion for those affected by cancer.
The mission of Sherry’s Run: Through faith and love create an environment for all those affected by cancer, which provides hope, knowledge, assistance, support and compassion. To learn more about Sherry’s Run please call 615-925-2592 or to refer someone who might qualify for assistance please call 615-925-9932 or visit www.sherrysrun.org.