Lawrence R. Newman dies at 86; a prominent advocate for the deaf


Lawrence R. Newman, a prominent advocate for the rights of the deaf community and a former longtime teacher and administrator at the California School for the Deaf in Riverside, has died. He was 86.

Newman, who served two terms as president of the National Assn. of the Deaf, died Monday at his home in Riverside of complications from an emergency surgery and a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, said his daughter Laureen Newman-Feldhorn.

“Larry was a true gentleman and someone I admired for his hard work and dedication on behalf of the deaf community,” T. Alan Hurwitz, president of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the world’s only liberal arts university for students who are deaf and hard of hearing, said in a statement to The Times on Tuesday.


“His legacy for his contributions to the betterment of education for deaf children will forever be remembered,” said Hurwitz, a former president of the National Assn. of the Deaf who served on its board of directors with Newman. “He was a significant role model for me, and I know he will always be regarded as a giant in the deaf community.”

Deaf since he was 5 in 1930, Newman joined the faculty at the California School for the Deaf in Riverside as a mathematics teacher in 1953. He taught at the school for 20 years and was chosen California Teacher of the Year by the state Department of Education in 1969 — the first deaf teacher so honored in California.

Newman always stressed the importance of education in the lives of deaf children and fought for the right of deaf students to be educated using sign language.

“If deaf people could get an education, their minds would be set free and the kingdom of the world would be theirs,” he once wrote.

After four years as principal of the Taft School for the Aurally Handicapped in Santa Ana (now the Taft Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program) beginning in 1973, Newman returned to the California School for the Deaf in Riverside in 1977 as assistant superintendent. He retired in 1988.

Newman was president of the National Assn. of the Deaf in 1988 when student demonstrators at Gallaudet University, his alma mater, protested the selection of a hearing person, Elisabeth Ann Zinser, as the next president of the university over two deaf finalists for the position.


The California School for the Deaf in Riverside and Fremont closed in support of the Gallaudet demonstration.

“The deaf people here are stunned and outraged,” Newman, who also was the Riverside school’s assistant superintendent at the time, told the Washington Post. “Hearing people have all kinds of ways to move up in the world. There’s only one place for deaf people to move up, and that’s Gallaudet.”

Zinser resigned after only five days as president and I. King Jordan became the first deaf president in the university’s history.

When Jordan was officially installed at the university later that year, Newman told the crowd that his installation “marks the emancipation of deaf people from the shackles of limitations.”

The youngest of three sons, whose parents ran a small neighborhood bakery in Manhattan, Newman was born in Brooklyn on March 23, 1925.

He had normal hearing until he was 5, but a chronic ear infection led to mastoiditis. As chronicled in a 2010 article on Newman in Deaf Life, “the doctor who operated on him accidentally severed the left seventh cranial nerve, which transverses the middle ear and controls the muscles of facial expression on that side.”

The operation not only left Newman profoundly deaf but caused the left side of his face to become motionless.

He was a student at the Lexington School for the Deaf in New York before attending the New York School for the Deaf, where he played on the football team.

At what is now known as Gallaudet University, he earned a bachelor’s degree in English and met his future wife, Betty, who was hard-of-hearing most of her life and became deaf in her late 40s. They were married in 1950, and Betty later taught language arts at the California School for the Deaf in Riverside.

After earning a master’s degree in English Literature at Catholic University in 1950, Newman launched his teaching career at the Central New York School for the Deaf in Rome, N.Y., where, instead of teaching English, he was assigned to teach high school mathematics.

Newman, who served as president of the National Assn. of the Deaf from 1986 to 1990, established the National Committee on Equal Educational Opportunities for Deaf Children. Earlier, he served as president of the International Assn. of Parents of the Deaf, which is now known as the American Society for Deaf Children.

Newman also was a leading supporter of captioned television, which has become widely available.

He was the author of two books: “Sands of Time: NAD Presidents 1880-2003,” published by the National Assn. of the Deaf in 2006, and “I Fill this Small Space: The Writings of a Deaf Activist,” published by Gallaudet University Press in 2009.

In addition to his daughter Laureen and his wife of 61 years, Newman is survived by two sons, Mitchell and Warner, two other daughters, Carol Newman, who is deaf, and Rochelle Braithwaite; a brother, Leonard; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

A memorial service for Newman will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Mount Sinai Memorial Park, 5950 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles.