Remembering the Literacy Legend Who Learned to Read at 54
Posted by Jennifer Vecchiarelli on March 09, 2017 in categoryStudent Stories

Archie Willard, founder and first president of VALUEUSA, passed away February 25. He is remembered as a devoted and compassionate advocate of adult literacy and health literacy, and as an inspiration to adult learners everywhere. 

Until the age of 54, Willard had kept it a secret that he could not read. He had worked for 31 years at a meat packing company, but when the day came to move on, the job transition forced him to confront his secret. He had always been able to dodge the issue and live comfortably, but when faced with a job search, Willard realized he could not hide the truth any longer—supporting his family depended on it.

Overcoming Dyslexia to Become Literate 

As a struggling middle-aged man learning to read, it was finally discovered that Willard was dyslexic. In his book Last Reader Standing, Willard remembers grade school teachers, unaware of his dyslexia, sending him to the back of the classroom and labelling him “stupid.” On his journey to become literate, Willard emerged as a national figure who would ultimately become a dedicated advocate for adult literacy. 

Willard joined forces with other literacy advocates, including former First Lady Barbara Bush. During one of her literacy foundation’s fundraisers, she introduced him as “the man who took advantage of a second chance and improved his life.” He brought literacy awareness to the surface by writing for various magazines and journals, and co-creating videos, documentaries, and other media on the topic.

Willard was a Fellow with the National Institute for Literacy and traveled regularly across the U.S. and around the world to research and consult with others about their literacy programs. He studied adult learner leadership, and he led adult learner leaders and practitioners during his travels. This ultimately led to him establishing the Voice of Adult Learners United for Education, also known as VALUEUSA.

Health literacy was another passion of Willard’s. For decades he led health literacy conferences encouraging patients and providers to unify. He participated in patient safety forums and studied patient education. It was his goal to advocate for the importance of health literacy for individuals and their families.

Willard will be remembered for his legacy and as an inspiration to adult learners everywhere. If you knew Willard, or were inspired by him, we would love to hear your story in the comments below. 


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