This June, Grady Landrum - who has been director of Disability Services at Wichita State University for the past 27 years - will retire. Landrum is well known across campus as a jovial and self-effacing member of the Shocker community.
He is also known for his tremendous work at WSU, taking the Office of Disability Services from a program with no policies or procedures nearly 30 years ago and building it into an office that for years has provided a high quality of services for students, faculty and staff.
On the eve of his retirement, we revisit his story.
Nearly 48 years ago on Dec. 11, 1971, a teenaged Grady Landrum made a choice. After a night of drinking with friends, he chose to get behind the wheel and drive home.
He doesn’t know whether he was over the legal limit, but he knows drinking and driving are why he's been in a wheelchair ever since.
Landrum’s journey is both inspirational and a testament to his never-quit attitude. He uses his experience as a platform to talk to church youth groups and the DUI Victims Center in Wichita. He regularly talks to people who have been recently convicted of DUI and how it affected him, his family and how they can avoid making the same mistake.
At the time of the accident, Landrum was 17.
“I only drank for peer pressure,” said Landrum. “I never really enjoyed it that much. I remember taking the first drink of beer, and then I don’t really remember anything solid until about eight days later.”
Driving with a friend, Landrum started going too fast in the two-door stationwagon. After going around a curve, he rolled the car. The driver’s door was ripped off, and Landrum was thrown from the car.
His friend escaped serious injury. Not so for Landrum. He landed on his head, breaking his neck.
"I knew that I had made all those decisions — to go out and drink and drive."
During the eight days he was unconscious, Landrum remembers a doctor standing over him saying, “You’ve been in an accident. Go back to sleep.”
When finally regaining consciousness, Landrum said: “One of the things I did was reach up and grab all the tubes and pull them out, which is never a wise thing to do. I lost two pints of blood because I did that, because I must have ripped up some internal things.”
When he awoke the next day, he started asking questions about what had happened. The first doctor was an intern who said he had a 60 percent chance of being permanently paralyzed.
“I thought those were fairly good odds,” said Landrum.
Soon after, a doctor told Landrum that, because of the spinal cord injury, there was a 99 percent chance he would never walk again.
“I accepted it pretty fast,” said Landrum. “I didn’t go through a lot of anger or ‘Why me, God?’ A lot of it was because I knew that I had made all those decisions — to go out and drink and drive — and when they told me that I hadn’t run into anything and that I’d lost control of the car, I really couldn’t blame the guys I went out drinking with because it was my idea. It was just a series of decisions that I made, and it turned out really crappy.”
Living in survival mode
Landrum was raised in a military family, so he was used to changes occurring quickly. For him, it was just another time when life would drastically change. He went into survival mode thinking, “What do I need to do to get better?”
Not many people with spinal cord injuries survived long periods of time in the early 1970s. But it was also during the Vietnam War when a lot of new techniques had been developed on the battlefield with different types of rehabilitation.
While Landrum was in intensive care, on one occasion his heart stopped, but he was resuscitated.
Considering the bleak prognosis, Landrum considers himself fortunate.
“Everybody (in the family) took it fairly well,” said Landrum. “We kind of just all gathered around and decided what needed to be done. We grew up with a pretty strong Christian faith in our family. I don’t know how much we really relied on our faith during that time. My biggest concerns were, will I be able to drive a car again and will I ever have sex? When you wake up paralyzed and there’s no other option, your two choices are do everything you can to get on with life or give up, and I was never the give-up-type person.”
After extensive periods of rehabilitation, Landrum went to college, but he still didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life.
"I’ve always used humor as a survival thing."
His first degree was in radio / TV broadcast, but after a couple of years working in radio, he knew that wasn’t for him. He also tried selling ads for a newspaper, but disliked that, too.
Then he heard about the League of Human Dignity organization and started learning about different types of disabilities, disability law and disability resources.
After six years, he still wasn’t satisfied.
While earning a master’s degree in counseling from Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon, he realized he’s more of a fixer than a counselor. It was at that time he learned about a job in disability services at Wichita State.
“It was a really good fit for my educational background, my personal life, and for disability law and how it applies to different situations,” said Landrum. “A lot of those skills just fit with me really, really well.”
There were few policies or procedures regarding disability services when he started at WSU. He had 30 student assistants who would take notes for students who needed help.
Now his office serves more than 500 students each semester.
“Being disabled helps me identify with students,” said Landrum. “Even though I may not have the same disability, they know I understand some things.”
He loves the work environment at the university, the freedom he has and the creativity he can use.
Landrum, who is 64, has been married for 32 years.
“So far, so good,” said Landrum. “But I also married a really lovely lady. And she’s not a nurse. That’s usually what people ask.”
Growing up, Landrum was the shortest guy in his class, so he became the class clown.
“I was the one who made friends with all the tough guys so that I would never get beaten up,” said Landrum. “I’ve always used humor as a survival thing, but also I think it’s a really good way to relax people, take the edge off the situation, and it’s a good educational tool to use.”
Anniversaries are reminders of what has happened in the past, and while Dec. 11 marks the 48th anniversary of the accident that forever changed his life, Landrum said with a wry smile, “I don’t plan on celebrating or anything.”