Born two months premature in 1950 at less than three pounds, he hardly seemed destined for heroism.
In fact, doctors told Michael Hingson’s parents to place the blind baby in an institution.
They, however, pledged to raise their son as a normal child. And, so, they did.
Mr. Hingson consistently has overcome the biases of a sighted world, earning a master’s degree in physics, achieving success as a tech sales executive in Manhattan and, ultimately, helping others escape the World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
He wrote a bestselling book about the experience, Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog & the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero.
The Fauquier County Public Library earlier this year selected Thunder Dog as the book for its first “Community Read” project, which concluded this week.
Mr. Hingson recounted 9/11 and his life’s story Wednesday night for an audience of 350 at Highland School in Warrenton.
He described descending 78 flights of steps with his guide dog, Roselle. On the long journey down 1,463 steps, he at times encouraged others, assuring them that a blind man could help if smoke and loss of emergency lighting made it impossible to see.
He recalled an encounter with a fireman climbing toward the inferno — and, ultimately, certain death.
Against protocol, Mr. Hingson allowed the fireman to pet Roselle, who licked his face — the last expression of “unconditional love” in his life.
During his speech from the stage, Mr. Hingson encouraged people to live without limits and to reconsider preconceived notions about those with disabilities.
After his 90-minute talk, audience members lined up to buy and have Mr. Hingson sign copies of Thunder Dog. Second Chapter Books of Middleburg sold about 200 copies in the Rice Theatre’s lobby.
The library organized dozens of events as part of the Community Read, including a breakfast with Mr. Hingson for Fauquier first responders and an event for special needs students. Book groups and discussions also took place over the course of more than a month.
“We were thrilled with the community’s reception,” library spokeswoman Lisa Pavlock said. “The program touched a range of children, teens and adults.”