Forty years of travel have taught Sunny Coady ’65 the benefits of getting out of the house.
A lifelong New Englander, Coady has traveled to Greece, India, Bhutan, Thailand (four times), Brazil, Italy (14 times), and New Zealand. She’s sailed, too, in the South Pacific archipelago of Tonga, and all over the Caribbean. Once she spent a vacation at home—and didn’t like it at all.
“When you’re out there,” she said, “stuff happens.”
Like what? Crossing paths with Colby classmates, like in New Zealand where she met Martha Child Ash ’67, who then worked in Waitomo. An invitation, while sailing with friends, to get involved with Easter Seals. A serendipitous encounter in Cornwall with the Lord Nelson, a tall ship designed to sail with teams of able-bodied and disabled people. Coady eventually helped arrange events on the ship for Easter Seals when the vessel came to Boston.
Not bad, for someone whose prognosis as an infant was that she would never sit or walk.
Before birth, Coady had spina bifida, a condition that causes a hole to form in the spine during early pregnancy, leaving part of the spinal cord exposed and causing various disabilities. Coady’s spine, however, closed before she born, leaving her with a severe case of scoliosis instead.
Her parents, who named her Alison, took in the doctors’ prognosis and nicknamed their baby girl Sunny, thinking she needed something cheery in her life.
It proved a moniker that she fully embraced.
Coady did walk and sit, and much more. Growing up in Canton, Mass., Coady wore leg braces yet felt like a normal kid, she remembers, and didn’t understand why she was chosen last for dodge ball. She did seventh grade at home, however, recovering from surgery that rebuilt a deformed leg. For much of her young life she wore body braces, including a year in high school when she had to wear a brace that extended to her chin.
Mayflower Hill posed no physical challenges for Coady, an art history major with a minor in mathematics. But socially, she felt left out and was quite shy. She stuck it out and, with encouragement from Nancy Winslow Harwood ’65 (still a close friend), blossomed and flourished. A successful 33-year career at New England Telephone and Nynex (now Verizon), followed.
For many years Coady struggled, she says, with appearing more physically challenged than she was. Over time she realized that this perception could be helpful. “I was getting more comfortable with being seen as disabled, even though I’m not,” Coady said, adding, “I could be useful to somebody.” That’s when she began volunteering with Easter Seals.
A national organization founded in 1919, Easter Seals provides services to people with disabilities to help them lead productive lives. Coady served on Easter Seals committees for several years before her election in 1983 to the Massachusetts board. In addition she now serves on the national board and is engaged with fundraising and governance.
“I feel connected to the people and connected in a way that will give them an example of the kinds of things they can do,” she said of her interactions with people with disabilities.
Able-bodied and people with disabilities have more in common than meets the eye, and Coady exemplifies those commonalities. Her attitude and lifestyle inspire others, while she, in turn, learns from them. “I learned from a young disabled person that, even if you don’t do the thing you want to do,” she said, “you’re going to learn from that.”
Coady, who never married or had children, is retired and lives in New London, N.H., near her sister Shelby Coady Blunt ’72; brothers Brad ’67 and Jeff ’69 also live in New England. Coady staves off disability by staying healthy and active—her inextinguishable spirit keeps her buoyant. “I’m not disabled yet. Maybe one day, but not yet,” she said.
Coady’s latest adventure? In October she set out for a trip that included sailing in the Seychelles and a safari in South Africa, far away from home.