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McCay Vernon: A Life worth Celebrating

From: American Annals of the Deaf
Volume 158, Number 4, Fall 2013
pp. 397-398 | 10.1353/aad.2013.0032

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On August 29, 2013, Dr. McCay Vernon, a pioneer in the education of the deaf who had an incredible impact on the field, passed away at age 84. A psychologist, Mac was indeed “present at the creation.” He began his career at a time when little was known about the various etiologies of deafness, when it was assumed that deaf individuals were less intelligent than hearing individuals and that the use of any kind of sign language was detrimental to the development of speech, English, and academic achievement. He changed the thinking behind these assumptions, and many more. His seminal research on the variable impact of different causes of deafness on growth and functioning provided new insights. His work on cognition and deafness established that the cognitive abilities of deaf and hearing persons were equivalent, and his findings on the positive impact of manual communication, educational achievement, linguistic competence, oral skills, and psychological development helped advance the acceptance of manual communication in the classroom. His books They Grow in Silence, with Gene Mindel, and Psychology of Deafness, with Jean Andrews, remain landmark works.


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Mac was a psychology professor at Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College), Westminster, from 1969 to 1991. There, he attracted and mentored leaders in education, psychology, and genetics and deafness. He became editor of the American Annals of the Deaf in 1969 and led the journal to international prominence. He retired as editor of the Annals in 1989, but remained as a reviewer and member of the Editorial Board for the rest of his life. Upon his retirement, he moved to Saint Augustine, in the state where he had grown up, Florida, and remained active in the fields of psychology, mental health, education, medicine, and the law as they related to deafness.

Jean first met Mac 40 years ago when she was a first-year master’s degree student and Mac was teaching the Psychology of Deafness class at Western Maryland. This began a long friendship and years of productive collaboration. In his class, Mac would have graduate students who were deaf tell their painful and lonely stories about growing up without sign language. While at Western Maryland, Mac published a second edition of his book, They Grow in Silence, as well as research on preschool education, the role of deaf teachers, deaf-blindness, and the effects of various etiologies on deafness; he was also making documentary films about deafness and serving as editor of the Annals. Mac’s research on preparing and hiring deaf teachers is a model my colleagues and I have tried to replicate at other universities. As a young teacher of reading at the Maryland School for the Deaf, in Frederick, I would often stop by Mac’s office in nearby Westminster to discuss what I was learning, and Mac suggested that I go to the University of Illinois to study linguistics and reading.

After graduating from the University of Illinois, I joined the faculty at Eastern Kentucky University in teacher training. Mac invited me to coauthor the Psychology of Deafness textbook. Six years later, when I moved to Texas to teach at Lamar University, Mac served on doctoral committees for our students, providing many ideas for research as well as mentorship. Around 2000, Mac was instrumental in helping to set up the National Deaf Academy (NDA), in Mount Dora, FL, a facility for the treatment of deaf children and adults with mental health issues. In his earlier research on etiologies, Mac had found that biology (etiologies), home environment (lack of communication), and poor instructional methods can lead to later mental health problems in deaf individuals. One day, I met Mac for lunch near NDA when I was on campus observing student teachers in NDA’s charter school. Mac said, “I never thought that I would see, in my lifetime, a facility that provided accessible mental health services like NDA provided.” Mac’s mind and heart were in improving mental health services for deaf persons, and the establishment of NDA was a significant accomplishment.

Mac was also a creative writer of nonfiction. He and his wife, Marie Vernon, also a creative writer, coauthored two nonfiction books, Deadly Lust and...



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