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H.K. Derryberry and Jim Bradford share story of 17-year friendship

Lacey Klotz  | 


"Mr. Bradford lets me borrow his eyes," says H.K. Derryberry, a 26-year-old motivational speaker, who along with Jim Bradford, a retired Brentwood, Tenn., businessman, joined Lipscomb’s Gathering chapel on Tuesday, Nov. 1, as the featured speakers.

Born legally blind and with cerebral palsy, Derryberry was raised by his grandmother Pearl after losing his mother in a single-car accident and being abandoned by his father at age 5.

Derryberry spent much of his early childhood sitting in Mrs. Winner’s Chicken & Biscuits in Brentwood, just listening to a boom box radio and waiting for his grandmother’s shift to end.

One Saturday morning in 1999, Bradford purchased a cup of coffee at Mrs. Winner’s and walked over to a booth to befriend 9-year-old Derryberry.

“I’m certain that morning that God was my GPS,” said Bradford, whose normal routine consisted of stopping at the Starbucks located just a mile down the road from Mrs. Winner’s.  

After spending a few Saturday afternoons with Derryberry, Bradford said he was confused when H.K. grabbed his waist and began to cry when he was saying goodbye. Bradford said he later received a call from Derryberry’s grandmother who told him that every man who has ever spent time with H.K. had eventually said goodbye and never returned.

This realization struck a chord in Bradford’s heart, and he, along with his wife Brenda, embraced Derryberry and his grandmother as part of their family.

Today, after 17 years of friendship, Derryberry says he has found both a lifelong friend and father figure in Bradford.

Sitting center stage in Lipscomb’s Gathering chapel, Derryberry said Bradford would let him borrow his eyes by painting pictures of things so Derryberry could visualize them as well.

“Mr. Bradford told me he loved me, he told me he was proud of me, he was proud to introduce me to his friends,” said Derryberry. “Seventeen years later, Mr. Bradford still lets me borrow his eyes, and he has never charged me any rent for them.”

Derryberry said he remembered feeling different from others from an early age, but was confident he could do anything he set his mind to – as long as he maintained a positive attitude.

Derryberry was born with a unique gift called hyperthymesia, a condition often referred to as superior autobiographical memory. With this gift, Derryberry has the ability to locate detailed memories, including dates, times, historical events and even the weather forecast, from days long past. There have been two reported cases in the world, and H.K. Derryberry is one of them.  

“God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well. Philippians 4:13 says, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,’” said Derryberry. “In life, I’ve always been considered the underdog. People tell me things I can’t do, without complimenting me for things that I can.”

Derryberry shared the limitations people had place on him throughout the years including doctors who said he wouldn’t live a long life or others who said he’d most likely be confined to a wheelchair, but Derryberry has proudly defied both of those projections. He also shared how past teachers had told him he wasn’t smart enough, but on June 1, 2012, he accomplished a life goal of graduating with a high school diploma.

Despite all the obstacles before him, Derryberry has experienced more than most could dream of in a lifetime. He has had his life story published, was named homecoming king, has met numerous professional athletes and travels around the country to encourage others to never give up.

“Anything in life is possible, if you determine your capabilities and maintain a positive attitude, you can accomplish most anything in life within your capabilities,” said Derryberry. “The only disability any of us have in life is a negative attitude.”

Derryberry and Bradford ended their time on campus encouraging the Lipscomb community to always keep a positive attitude and always embrace people who are having difficulties and are in need of a friend.

“By my reaching out to H.K, and by him reaching out to me – two lives were changed greatly,” said Bradford.

Derryberry and Bradford are both members of Harpeth Hills Church of Christ in Nashville.