- In Memoriam:Robert F. Panara
McGrain, V. (2014). In memoriam: Robert F. Panara. American Annals of the Deaf, 159(4), 13–14.
Robert F. Panara, much-beloved professor emeritus at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), author, poet, historian, international authority on deaf figures in literature, and the first deaf professor at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), died July 20. He was 94 years old.
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It is believed that Mr. Panara was the first deaf person to obtain an academic teaching position after graduating from the New York School for the Deaf, in White Plains, NY, and the first deaf person to earn a master’s degree in English from New York University. RIT/NTID named its theater after him in 1988 and created a scholarship fund in his honor.
Mr. Panara was born hearing in Bronx, NY. At age 10, he contracted spinal meningitis, which left him profoundly deaf. He attended mainstream public schools and often relied on classmates to take notes for him or mouth words so he could lipread.
He graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School, in New York City, learned sign language at the American School for the Deaf, in Hartford, CT, and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1940 at Gallaudet College (now University), where he wrote several papers that established him as a leader in the field of deaf education. “The Significance of the Reading Problem” expressed his belief that “what the world needs today is more teaching that comes from the heart and soul and not of the coldly conservative and somewhat reticent mind.” This insight would form his teaching style.
Mr. Panara’s love of drama and theater made his classes some of the most sought after by both deaf and hearing students.
In 1965, he was invited by Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare John W. Gardner to serve on a national advisory board for the establishment of NTID. He began his career at NTID in 1967 and became its first deaf professor. He also established the English Department at NTID, in which his son, John, currently teaches. Throughout the years, Mr. Panara received numerous honors, including the RIT Founders Award, the NTID Student Association Outstanding Staff Award, and the RIT Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching. He also received honorary degrees from Gallaudet University and MacMurray College (Jacksonville, IL).
Mr. Panara founded the NTID Drama Club and was a founding member of the National Theatre of the Deaf. He was honored by the World Federation of the Deaf for his contributions to education and culture.
He was an avid poet, a lover of Shakespeare and theater, and a fan of baseball. His favorite team was the Rochester Red Wings.
In an interview posted on the StoryCorps website in 2009 (http://storycorps.org/listen/bob-panara/), he spoke about his lifelong fascination with baseball. His reminiscences included an account of a 1931 meeting his father arranged with his hero, Babe Ruth. “Shaking hands with the Bambino was a dream come true,” Mr. Panara said.
Harry Lang, NTID professor emeritus and a close friend of Mr. Panara, always admired his positive outlook on life and the way he engaged students in the classroom. “Many people search in life for best friends,” Lang said. “I was fortunate to have found mine in Bob. Bob and I met at NTID in 1970, [End Page 313] and in all of those years, I have never met a man who was more loved, respected, and inspirational—and that is not an exaggeration. Bob was the perfect example of someone who was able to masterfully marry his life, teaching, and interests in a beautiful way that inspired others—and that brought him so much fulfillment.” Lang also shared the impact Mr. Panara had on the deaf world: “Before the 1960s, many people looked down at sign language; it was not respected. At that time, Bob was advising the National Theatre of the Deaf, and his work helped the actors show the beauty of American Sign Language and opened minds and doors in so many ways. He had a true talent for translating the most complex of subjects...