Foundation volunteer and patron Ken Rietz has written a memoir about
his long career in politics and public relations. Its title includes two
phrases that well describe his life: Losing Sight, Gaining Insight.
chief counselor and keep everything running on time
and in the right direction,” Rietz writes. “I stuffed
envelopes, swept floors, ran errands, and handed out
thousands of buttons, matchbooks, bumper stickers,
flyers, and other kinds of literature. Still, it was the
best job I ever had.”
At age 34, Rietz was diagnosed with RP. As is
typical, the early stages of the disease caused Rietz to
have night blindness and tunnel vision.
In his fascinating memoir, “Winning Campaigns,
Losing Sight, Gaining Insight” (Mascot Books, 2016),
Rietz reflects on the many ways losing his sight made
him think about vision in a broader context.
“When I faced the challenge of losing my ability
to see, I realized that many people I have known over
the years lost sight in other ways,” Rietz writes. “I have
seen some individuals losing sight of their objectives
and moral compasses. Others gained insight, effected
change, and moved our world forward regardless of
“I have often thought that my disability actually
helped me in both my political and business careers.
It made me focus on the problem in front of me
and avoid distraction. It forced me to realize I could
depend on others. As it became more difficult to
read, I needed to memorize facts and numbers,
which enhanced my memory. It made me more
understanding, patient, compassionate, and aware of
the problems facing others. It taught me to adjust to
circumstances beyond my control.”
By the late 1980s, as his vision was becoming more
and more limited, Rietz also made a career change:
He moved out of political campaign management
and into public relations. His new job at Burson-
Marsteller, the worldwide public relations firm, would
bring Rietz back to Washington, D.C. — fortunately
for the Foundation Fighting Blindness.
“Going blind has been a gradual experience for me.
More than 40 years ago when my eye doctor told me
I had RP and there was no cure, I thought my ability
to see would end quickly. It didn’t. Instead, I had 40
years to prepare for my eventual loss of sight. Many
of the new friends I have met through the Foundation
Fighting Blindness did not have the same luxury.”
“The Foundation owes a large debt of gratitude to
Ken Rietz,” says the Foundation’s CEO Bill Schmidt.
“Ken created our highly successful Washington, D.C.,
fundraising dinner. That’s been important not just
for the money it’s raised, but because it helped the
Foundation establish a presence among Washington
policymakers and members of Congress. Plus, on
a more personal level, Ken is a role model. He’s an
outstanding example of facing the challenge of vision
loss with courage and resilience.”
The Foundation’s Washington Visionary Awards
dinner was first established in 2003. Since then, Rietz
has chaired 13 D.C. dinners, helping to raise over
$5 million to support retinal disease research.
Rietz and his wife, Ursula, live in the Virginia
countryside at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The area, although only 60 minutes from Washington,
D.C., is a world away and best known for its wineries,
horse farms, and Civil War history. Rietz and Ursula
have two primary philanthropic interests, the Animal
Rescue Fund of Virginia and the Foundation Fighting