Roy Mackpenfield suddenly finds the sight in his one good eye obscured. He blinks; he splashes water on his face — but the sight does not return. His life as a businessman, husband, father and community citizen disappears into darkness. This energetic, active man must now be led around and can do little for himself. For many men, such a disaster would mean the end; but for Roy it was a new beginning. As treatments were tried, initially without success and later with limited success, he set about building a new life using the little sight that remained. This is a story of courage, of love and laughter, of doggedness and determination, as Roy transforms the darkness that enveloped him into a light to inspire others.
Roy’s life a story of determination
GOD loves a tryer and they don’t try much harder than Roy Mackpenfield Grant.
He’s a walking, talking example of how enterprise and determination can overcome prejudice, economic adversity and failing health.
While Britain celebrates black history month, Mr Grant, or Mr Mackpenfield to use his writing name, has quietly published his first book.
When Darkness Turns to Light is the story of how this resident of Duffryn, Newport, was blinded by a haemorrhage in his one good eye but fought back by seeking treatment and going back to school to learn how to make best use of his faltering vision.
He’s now working on two other books and – having reluctantly accepted retirement from business – has become a community volunteer.
Roy founded the Duffryn Community Cycle Care Club, the Under 13s Disco and is a board member of Duffryn Community Link.
This determination to make the most of himself was no road-to-Damascus revelation brought on by illness.
Ever since catching the boat from Jamaica to Britain as a 19-year-old in 1962, Roy has given 100 per cent.
His first employment experience was a Birmingham labour exchange where he was abused by a clerk who started ranting about people like him needing to learn to speak properly before coming to this country to get jobs.
He walked all over that Midlands city in search of an opportunity to continue the engineering apprenticeship he had begun in Jamaica. “The factories had large gates with small hatches in them for a clerk to pull back and speak to you.
“When they saw me approaching they would try to duck down out of sight or slam the hatch shut.”
His luck changed when his cousin’s sister wrote that she was happily settled in Newport.
“I asked her if there were any jobs, and had she suffered any racial discrimination? She said she had been accepted and the job situation was better than Birmingham’s.”
Roy fell in love in love with Newport the first day he saw it. “Walking down the high street, people looked at me with open eyes and a smile that said hello,” he said.
After three days he saw a job advertised in the Argus at Newport Dock Grinding & Precision Engineering.
He was recruited and after ten months with the firm he completed his apprenticeship. Eighteen months later he was a charge-hand and went on to climb the ladder to production manager in a 20-year stint.
During this time he helped to design tungsten Carbide cutting tools to help the carpet-making industry cut nylon and steel fibres without causing ‘fusion’ (little bobbles on the end of the nylon threads).
But by 1982 British manufacturing industry was on its knees having faced the full onslaught of Mrs Thatcher’s industrial policy. Roy was one of many made redundant at the time.
Rather than bemoan his loss he went into self-employment, building up a taxi business and then a catering operation which involved taking a van full of sandwiches and pies around factories and building sites.
“I filled a lot of hungry stomachs,” he said, laughing.
It was hard work but the business flourished until 1997 and the collapse of his eyesight.
“I had just cleaned the van out, sat down in my chair and cleaned my pipe, when all of a sudden my vision clouded over and disappeared.
“The optic nerve was bleeding and the blood had accumulated in front of the retina blocking my sight.”
Roy is hoping his book will inspire others to challenge their circumstances and express themselves in whatever calling appeals to them.
His five children have picked up a few tips from their old man and all have become achievers in their own right.
Dennis Grant, who is now a prison warden and a leader of the RESPECT programme for inmates, was a South East Wales boxing champion and Wales Sports Personality of the Year.
Roy’s book costs £9.99 and is published by Morgan Publishing of Cardiff. The book’s ISBN number is 1903532086.