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Jack R. Gannon: An Appreciation

March 18, 2022


Renowned historian Jack Randle Gannon, ’59 (name sign: G on the forehead then down to the chin), beloved husband, father, and grandfather died on March 14, 2022. He was 85 years old.

Jack dedicated much of his life to helping people understand what it means to be Deaf. An advocate, educator, curator, and writer, he connected people and ideas. He inspired students, challenged accepted practices, and pushed for positive change. The impact of his contributions is immeasurable.

Born in an Ozark mountain home without running water near West Plains, Missouri on November 23, 1936, Jack became deaf at age eight from spinal meningitis. In 1946, he found a welcoming community at the Missouri School for the Deaf in Fulton. Jack thrived at school where his teachers, often deaf themselves, pushed him to learn and grow. While his own father had to leave school after the third grade, Jack became the first in his family to earn a college degree, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in education from Gallaudet College in 1959. 

Jack’s student years at Gallaudet were formative. He honed his writing and editing skills at the Buff and Blue student newspaper, as well as his love of football while playing center for the Bison. It was also during his college years that he met Rosalyn Faye Lee, the love of his life. They married five days after graduation, and together they began their working lives at the Nebraska School for the Deaf in Omaha.

Jack returned to Gallaudet in 1968 to work as the first-ever Director of Alumni and Public Relations. In this role, he also served as Executive Secretary of the Gallaudet College Alumni Association. During his 38-year career at Gallaudet, Jack served under five presidents, most notably under the university’s first deaf president, I. King Jordan. Following the 1988 Deaf President Now movement, Dr. Jordan appointed Jack to the position of Special Assistant to the President for Advocacy. Jack became a frequent national and international presenter on Deaf history, advocacy, and leadership.

With Jack Gannon’s recent passing, Gallaudet University and the larger deaf community lost a true giant, and Linda and I lost a dear friend.

Jack was one of a kind. He was always Jack, no matter the situation or the people with whom he was interacting. Everyone will agree that with Jack, what you see is what you get. Always.

I first met Jack when I was an undergraduate student and he was returning to Gallaudet as a new employee. He spoke at an Alpha Sigma Pi Fraternity banquet, and I can still vividly remember his talk. The title was “The Torch is Yours,” and it was profound and excellently delivered. I had been deaf for only a few years at that time, and to see a deaf man deliver such a powerful message had a profound impact on me. In the years after that, he and I would often talk about the torch and the passing thereof.

When I became president, I asked Jack to join my team and we worked together for many years. I recall that soon after he began working in the president’s office, amid all of the excitement following the DPN revolution, he and I were meeting and I said to him, “Well, Jack, it’s true. The torch is indeed ours.” He laughed that Jack Gannon laugh and we shook hands firmly.

One of Jack’s interesting sayings was to sign “good luck” and say “good lucky!” Many of us borrowed that from him and I still frequently tell people “good lucky.” Each time I do this, I think of Jack.

Linda and I were fortunate to become good friends with Jack and Rosalyn. It helped that our children were nearly the same age and attended the same high school. Jack and I frequently talked about the way that our children were growing and becoming independent. When the children went off to college and life after college, Jack and Rosalyn were able to realize a life-long dream and purchase their retirement farm. The farm became a non-stop project for the two of them, and it was always a pleasure to see the pride with which they would point to a recent accomplishment and improvement.

We were fortunate to have been able to know Jack so well. He will leave a significant emptiness now that he is gone.

I. King Jordan
President Emeritus

An avid woodcarver, Jack Gannon’s love of Gallaudet overlapped with his interest in woodcarving. He carved the model for the Alice Cogswell Award, a hand in an “A” shape. Defying his fear of heights, he climbed the steps high up the Tower Clock of iconic Chapel Hall to find a board that, together with wood from the American School for the Deaf and a 16th-century French church, was used to make the Gallaudet mace. Finally, Jack and his son Jeff salvaged wood being removed from College Hall during a renovation. With Jack’s boost, Jeff took a “dumpster dive,” and together they rescued treasured wood that is now the mantel in the Gannon home. 

With a printer’s eye for text, Jack Gannon edited without mercy for himself and those who asked for his feedback. He labored over each sentence and argued over every comma. He could be at the same time empathetic and tenacious when it came to publications. 

Jack Gannon saw the power of the past to deal with the present and guide the future. He painstakingly researched and documented national and international Deaf history, writing detailed and oft-cited books that are now in homes, libraries, and schools throughout the world. These books include:

Deaf Heritage, A Narrative History of Deaf America, National Association of the Deaf, Silver Spring, Maryland, 1981; a subsequent edition was published by Gallaudet University Press

The Week the World Heard Gallaudet, Gallaudet University Press, Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C., 1989

Through Deaf Eyes: A Photographic History of an American Community, co-authored with Douglas C. Baynton and Jean Lindquist Bergey, Gallaudet University Press, 2007

World Federation of the Deaf: A History, National Association of the Deaf, 2011


Towards the end of his days, Jack completed one last book about his life as a student, employee, adventurer, and parent. Get Your Elbow Off the Horn: Stories Through the Years (Gallaudet University Press, 2020) is a deeply personal collection of vignettes gathered over his lifetime. The book is warm and amusing, and leaves all its readers with broad smiles.

As curator of History Through Deaf Eyes, Jack successfully fought against a coordinated campaign to block the exhibition. Using facts, documents, photographs, and objects, he led the effort to bring United States Deaf history to 12 cities. Close to one-half million people saw the exhibition. It inspired the PBS Through Deaf Eyes documentary, for which he served as an adviser and interviewee.

Jack received numerous awards from local, national, and international entities. A sampling:

  • An Omaha television station named Jack football “Coach of the Year” while he was at Nebraska School for the Deaf. 
  • The American Library Association recognized Deaf Heritage as one of 21 books internationally for outstanding contributions by disabled persons. 
  • The New York City Public Library selected The Week the World Heard Gallaudet as a recommended book for youth. 
  • The National Association of the Deaf presented him with a Distinguished Service Award.
  • Gallaudet University bestowed upon Jack the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa in 1996. Gallaudet also named him a Visionary Leader in 2013 during the lead-up to the 2014 sesquicentennial celebration. He was named to the Gallaudet University Hall of Fame in 2014.
  • The World Federation of the Deaf awarded Jack and Rosalyn the International Solidarity Merit Award (First Class) in 2011, following the publication of World Federation of the Deaf: A History.

Behind these awards and recognitions was a deeply modest man who did work he believed in. 

Jack had a generous spirit. Never one to pass up the opportunity to educate, he frequently scribbled notes to engage with hearing people. Rarely would they understand how beloved Jack was within the Deaf community. He championed the importance of access to American Sign Language and Deaf role models in schools. He pushed for organizations to open doors to Deaf presenters and leaders. He wrote compelling letters and made forceful presentations that challenged the status quo. In short, Jack made this world a better place.

Jack will always be cherished as a great husband, an engaged father, a doting grandfather, and a caring friend. Jack loved nothing more than to be at his home, Tempted to Be Content Farm, with his beloved dogs and his lifelong love, Rosalyn. He spent his retirement years writing, birdwatching, wood carving, tree planting, and playing in the dirt. He lived his life in service to and fellowship with his friends, family, and the natural world.

Jack is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, Rosalyn Faye Lee Gannon, ’59; his son Jeff and his wife, Molly Luby; daughter Christine, director of Health and Wellness Programs at Gallaudet, and her husband, Anthony Rosella; and four grandchildren, Ossie and Matilda Gannon and Gabriel and Ava Rosella. He also leaves behind many loving nieces and nephews in Missouri. He was predeceased by his parents Floyd and Delma Gannon, and his siblings Frank Gannon, Betty Jo Huddleston, and Don Gannon.

The family requests that memorial gifts be made to the Gallaudet Museum Endowed Fund supporting the work of the National Deaf Life Museum, or the Class of 1970 Jack R. Gannon, ’59, Alumni Relations Fund. There is a dedicated webpage for memorial gifts. Checks may be mailed to:

Office of Development
Gallaudet University
800 Florida Avenue NE
Washington, DC 20002

This appreciation was written with admiration, love, and respect by Robert Weinstock and Jean Lindquist Bergey, with contributions from Rosalyn, Jeffrey, and Christine Gannon.

18 March 2022


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Robert Weinstock

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