Shawnee resident Kathy Chancellor overcomes hardships after losing eyesight

Elisabeth Slay
Kathy Chancellor

After unexpectedly going blind in her 30s, Shawnee resident Kathy Chancellor overcame adversity and obstacles to live her full life as a singer and advocate for adults with developing disabilities. 

According to the Chancellor, she was working in banking and raising her daughters, Bethany and Jami, when she lost her eyesight.  

“Everything was just kind of ordinary and then I was diagnosed in 1985 with Retinitis Pigmentosa,” Chancellor said. “Things certainly changed.” 

Kathy said she grew up a Navy brat, lived all over the world and had a great childhood. 

“I went to college down at East Central University and from there I married,” Chancellor said. 

The mother of two said before she lost her vision she was working in banking and taking care of her two daughters. 

However, when she went blind, her life changed drastically and she faced many challenges. 

“I quit banking and just kind of decided to stay home and wait it out until things got better,” Chancellor said. “That’s not the way life works.” 

Chancellor said she wasn’t sure what to do because there was no history of eye issues in her family and she didn’t have anyone in her life yet who understood what she was going through.

“For a while I was just staying home and trying to figure out what to do, raising my children and things just got a little bad,” Chancellor said.

She said she struggled to figure out her next step and had almost given up hope that the next phase of her life would improve. 

“After a while I was pretty devastated and I just couldn’t see things getting better and that was when the songs started coming into my head,” Chancellor said. 

The grandmother of three said she was a trained singer and performed duets with her sister in high school and college but she had never written songs. 

“Songs just started popping into my head and they seemed to be inspirational songs,” Chancellor said. “They seemed to be songs that I needed. Songs that spoke to me. That I needed to go on with my life in a positive way.” 

Kathy said she began singing professionally and sang her songs to crowds throughout Shawnee as Kathy Blue. 

“I just feel like I was led to do that and with every song that I wrote it just seemed to make me better,” Chancellor said. “It seemed to be something that I needed to hear and (it gave) me more peace in my life.”

After a while, Kathy said her singing career expanded to south Texas and continued for around 20 years.

The singer said she isn’t limited by a specific genre of music and just sings what she feels. 

“I write country songs. I write inspirational songs. I write seasonal songs. I write religious songs. I write patriotic songs,” Chancellor said. “When I was singing it was a variety of all types of music.”

The songwriter said in 1996 some of her songs were entered into a national songwriting competition in Las Vegas and she won each category she competed in including country, religious, patriotic and seasonal. 

Chancellor said she was also voted Oklahoma Songwriter of the Year in 1996. 

“That kind of developed and spurred on more songwriting and more performing,” Chancellor said. 

In addition to her singing, Chancellor said in the late 1990s she started volunteering with Persons with Developmental Disabilities. 

“I went into the field of developmental disabilities. I am still in it and it’s pretty great,” Chancellor said.

The instructor said she received a lot of training in helping people with developmental disabilities, worked with several different people and now teaches what she knows to others. 

“All kinds of things have developed from that and I am still on staff right now at ECU and I’ve been with them for 25 years,” Chancellor said. “I train adults to work with persons with developmental disabilities.” 

The educator said she for a time her professions overlapped and she would perform and sing and then work with people with developmental disabilities. 

“After I lost my eyesight and had to quit banking I thought I’d be useless,” Chancellor said. “You just have to simply follow your heart and see what else is out there and that’s why the field of developmental disabilities was something that I just stumbled into.”

Kathy said she’s gained confidence from both her professions and is grateful to have found two things she loves to do.

“Losing your eyesight does certainty affect your self esteem and your self worth and that’s when you need to just go find something else,” Chancellor said. 

The musician said along with finding her careers and building her confidence she also met her husband Jerry after she lost her vision. 

“I met him in 1990 in California getting our first guide dogs and we were married in 1991,” Chancellor said. “He’s visually imparied.”

The wife said she fell in love with Jerry because he understood what she was going through. 

These days, Chancellor said she’s been staying close to home and socially distaning due  COVID-19, but she will occasionally see friends. She’s still teaching, she will sing if there is a show close to home and live her day-to-day life.

“I’m working when I am scheduled, singing when I book bookings, taking care of grandkids,” Chancellor said. “I enjoy cooking. My husband and I would go dancing before COVID. So I just have a pretty full life.” 

In addition, Chancellor said she has a knitting ministry called Loony Loomers and they make hats for children in schools, the Salvation Army and anywhere they’re needed.

Chancellor said she looks forward to spending each day with her husband, daughters, her grandchildren, her friends and her guide dog Gabor, who is named after Hollywood starlet Zsa Zsa Gabor. 

“I hope for more of the same. I have a pretty full life so I hope I continue having a full life of peace, contemptment and enjoyment with friends, family members and church family,” Chancellor said.