“They prayed for me at church and on the radio,” Mr. Bordley later recounted. “Can you imagine how much I hoped I’d be able to see again? They were telling me stuff like, put your hand on the radio and God will save you. And I did it. It was a big disappointment.”
Mr. Bordley’s sight never returned, but a competitive and physical drive led him to wrestling, first at the Maryland School for the Blind and then at a public high school in Delaware, where he was the first legally blind student and won the state championship as a junior.
He later competed as a Harvard undergraduate, sparring with fellow student and future astrophysicist-author Neil deGrasse Tyson at practices. In 1980, Mr. Bordley won a gold medal in wrestling at the Paralympic Games. “Once you were on the mats,” he told the News Journal, a Delaware newspaper, “everything was good.”
Mr. Bordley, who earned a law degree at Harvard and spent more than three decades at the Justice Department, most recently focusing on public records litigation, died Dec. 16 at a hospital in Bethesda, Md. He was 61.
The cause was complications from a rare cancer of the thymus, said his wife Christina Llewellyn.
While Mr. Bordley wrestled in college matches, his sighted Harvard teammate Tom Bixby would stand on a neutral side of the mat and call out what the opponent was doing, how much time was left and what the score was.
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Walking into a meet one day, Bixby recalled, he could see the opposing team looking in awe at Mr. Bordley. The rival coach had them practice in blindfolds that week to see what their competitor went through every day.
Throughout college, Bixby said, Mr. Bordley felt “ostracized to a certain extent” not only as a blind man, but also as an African American. In Mr. Bordley’s dorm building, there were four other black students.
“You see, I have to take Harvard on three levels,” he told the Harvard Crimson in 1978. “First as just a student, then as a blind person and then as a black person.”
He explained to the newspaper that the wrestling team was a respite from prejudice.Strolling with a teammate one day, he noticed they were walking extra slowly, so Mr. Bordley told his companion, “Hey, you know just because you’re blind doesn’t mean that you can’t walk.”
While on a double date with that same friend, Mr. Bordley spilled strawberry sauce on his white suit and his friend quipped, “Hey, just because you’re blind doesn’t mean you have to spill strawberry sauce all over yourself.”
By Mr. Bordley’s senior year, the wrestling team elected him captain.
William Edward Bordley was born in Dover, Del., on Jan. 14, 1956. Five years later, his family moved to a smaller home in Camden Wyoming, Del., built by his father, who was a bricklayer, and his grandfather. His mother was an industrial worker.
In 1975, he secured the state championship in the 167-pound weight class at the Delaware Interscholastic Wrestling Tournament. He graduated from Harvard in 1979, majoring in romance languages, then used an NCAA postgraduate scholarship to attend Harvard Law School. The university provided him with a helper to read questions to him as he took the bar exam.
He clerked for a Massachusetts federal judge before starting his Justice Department career. There, he managed a training and research unit for blind attorneys, worked in the area of drug-use deterrence for the Drug Enforcement Administration and started initiatives as an attorney focused on the Freedom of Information Act for the U.S. Marshals Service.
Survivors include his wife of 33 years, Christina Llewellyn, and their daughter, Elizabeth Bordley, both of Silver Spring, Md.; his parents; a grandmother; two sisters; and two brothers.
Sometimes he performed poetry with his wife, a poet. He translated her poems into Spanish and would read from Spanish Braille while she read from the English print. He also participated in bowling for the blind, swimming and dragon boat racing on the Potomac River with a group of blind rowers called the “Outta Sight Dragons.” In 2006, he was inducted into the Delaware Afro-American Sports Hall of Fame .
Mr. Bordley, who treasured his independence, first applied for a guide dog after experiencing the difficulty of navigating Harvard’s sprawling campus in the winter with snow banks and parked cars on the sidewalks. He came to rely on German shepherd guide dogs.
“I feel that there is a dignity to having a dog,” Mr. Bordley told the New York Times in 2013. “When you’re using a cane, people grab you and direct you all the time.”
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