A family tradition since 1829

Perkins Trustee Bill Lowell contributed his time and talent to Perkins, just as the Lowell family has been doing for generations

Bill Lowell talking with colleagues at Perkins.

Bill Lowell became the latest member of the Lowell family to volunteer his time and talent when he joined the Perkins Corporation in 1985. His family connections to Perkins date back to the school's founding in 1829. Photo Credit: Brian Smith.

November 9, 2015

For Trustee Bill Lowell, giving back to Perkins School for the Blind is, quite literally, a family tradition.

When the Lowells first became involved with Perkins, there were only 23 states in the union, John Quincy Adams was serving his last days as president and the horse and carriage was a popular form of transportation.

The year was 1829. John A. Lowell was one of the signers of the Act of Incorporation that created America’s first school for the blind – and his signature on the document would mark the beginning of a remarkable and enduring partnership. When Perkins held its first classes for children who were blind in a small house in Boston, Lowell was serving on the school’s Board of Trustees.

Over the next two centuries, Perkins – and the nation – would undergo tremendous changes.

Perkins went on to pioneer the education of people with deafblindess, move to a 38-acre campus in Watertown, invent the modern brailler and begin working with partners in more than 60 countries around the world. The United States expanded from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, grew into a world power and sent a man to the moon.

But one thing remained the same: the Lowell family’s connection to Perkins. For the next 186 years, generation after generation of Lowells stepped forward to serve on Perkins’ Board of Trustees, provide leadership and raise funds for the school.

In 1985, Bill Lowell became the latest family member to volunteer his time and talent when he joined the Perkins Corporation. In 1998, he was elected to the Board of Trustees.

“Once I became involved and learned about the long family history it made it that much more special to me,” he said. “To carry on that tradition is really wonderful.”

During his 17 years on the Board, Lowell helped manage Perkins’ financial and investment strategies. He played a role in developing Perkins eLearning, the school’s online teacher training division. He led efforts to restructure the Board, expanding the number of trustees from 12 to 24 and introducing term limits to encourage turnover and new ideas. The changes helped the Board take on a more visionary role.

Lowell was involved in another milestone for Perkins – securing a $15 million grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation that transformed the scope and reach of Perkins International. The funds allowed Perkins to become a global force in the education of children with visual impairment and multiple disabilities.

“When you think of a school for the blind, Perkins is so much more than that now,” said Lowell. “It’s serving people all over the world.”

In early November, Lowell stepped down from the Board of Trustees, bringing to a close the latest chapter in the historic connection between Perkins and the Lowell family.

But not entirely. At his final meeting, the Board voted to recognize Lowell as an Honorary Trustee, a designation reserved for former trustees who have “gone above and beyond” in their service, and whose contributions will continue to shape the future of Perkins for decades to come.

“There’s no question that Perkins is better off today because of Bill’s thoughtful presence and professionalism,” said Board Chair Corinne Grousbeck. “The impact of Bill’s leadership is felt in all our programs both in Watertown and around the world. He will always be remembered as a member of the Perkins family.”