Roy Kay Holcomb

“The Father of Total Communication”

Roy Kay Holcomb started out dirt-poor, one of eight children in a farm laborer’s family. No one realized he was deaf until he was 9, and but he was finally enrolled at Texas School for the Deaf in Austin, a strict-oral military-style school. Roy struggled to catch up, loved reading, and was a fine baseball and basketball player. At Gallaudet College, he was a mediocre student, but loved playing basketball; he was the Blue Bisons’ leading scorer. In March 1943, at the Mason-Dixon Conference Tournament at Loyola College in Baltimore, he was one of Gallaudet’s “Five Iron Men” who played in all three games, winning the tournament. After graduating in 1947, he marred Marjoriebell (“Mabs”) Stakley, and the two embarked on a shared adventure of study, teaching, writing, earning advanced degrees, and raising two Deaf sons. As an administrator, Roy popularized “Total Communication,” a philosophy maintaining the right of each deaf student to whatever form of communication was most suitable. This represented the first breakaway from the rigidity of the oral approach that had dominated education of the deaf for nearly a century. Until his death from Parkinson’s disease on Thanksgiving Day, 1998, Roy continued to accept new challenges.

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