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What’s the name of that woman who got the award, the one who fell? Oh, yes, Betty G. Miller

April 8, 2009

Saturday, April 4, 2009: What a day. A wonderful day for Betty, even if she did fall (more on that later, and yes, she’s fine). Actually it’s a wonderful 3-day weekend. 

Betty and I are in DC for Gallaudet’s Charter Day ceremonies and the Gallaudet University Alumni Awards. Betty received the Alice Cogswell Award from the Laurent Clerc Cultural Fund (LCCF). Their focus is on culture, and honored her for her life’s work as an artist showcasing the deaf experience, and also for her work as a counselor in the field of alcohol and substance abuse.

I’m fighting exhaustion and burning eyes to write this, but I’ve learned from experience that I really need to write this, or at least start it, before I go to sleep for the night. Otherwise, I lose the energy left from the event itself. (I did write a good draft, finishing it up now, a few days later.)

The three of us arrived in town on Thursday– that’s me, Betty and our dog Tucker. Our first stop was the NAD office, where we visited with with old friends and colleagues. Because Tucker isn’t a certified assistance animal, we couldn’t stay at the hotel; but our friend David Nelson welcomed us into his home yet again. Seems we stay at the l’hotel Nelson nearly every time we come to DC.

Friday, the busiest day

I AM NOT a morning person. That’s a pretty well-known fact among those who’ve had the misfortune to see me before noon. So, I’d spent the entire week successfully working to pull back my body clock enough so I could get up and function by lunchtime. The first event of the weekend was lunch with GUAA board members (Gallaudet University Alumni Association), LCCF committee members (Laurent Clerc Cultural Fund) and all the people who were receiving awards. Met some interesting new people such as Darian Burwell (“Mom’s name was Marian,” “Ah! now I’ll remember it.”) who received the GUAA Outstanding Young Alumnus Award and was sitting across the table from us; and saw some old friends, such as Ron Hirano, Betty’s classmate, who received the GUAA Pauline “Polly” Peikoff “Service to Others”Award. 

A LECTURE BY DR. HARRY LANG was scheduled for after lunch, and we all walked over to the Sorenson Center Atrium. Lang’s lecture was on Abraham Lincoln, “Actions Louder than Words.” This year marked the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, and among the many contributions to the nation was his signature on April 8, 1864, on legislation, known as the Charter, which enabled the Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind to grant collegiate degrees. Dr. Lang said that in his research, he can’t find any proof that Lincoln ever wrote anything himself mentioning deaf people, but there are stories that show that a deaf woman reporter, in all likelihood Laura Redden who was reporting on the Civil War from Washington City, was seen interviewing President Lincoln and they were writing back and forth to each other. 

A TREE PLANTING CEREMONY was next. Sponsored by Green Gallaudet, the tree was planted near the Gallaudet and Alice statue on the front lawn in honor of Lincoln’s 200th birthday. Someone was seen saying, “It’ll be 100 years before you’ll see this tree from Florida Ave.” Someone else replied, “That’s okay, we’ll be here 100 years from now.”

BETTY WAS INTERVIEWED by Abby Drake, Assistant Director of Alumni Relations in the Library. This was an informal, filmed interview that GUAA did with all the award recipients. Then we went back “home” to rest, before joining the GUAA and LCCF folks for a BBQ at President Davila’s House, aka “House 1” of five houses in faculty row, a part of historic Gallaudet— from a time when teachers lived on campus. Both Betty and I were winding down by then, and were unusually quiet at dinner.

Saturday, the Awards luncheon

MANY OLD FRIENDS were there. Many were from the Gallaudet Class of 1957— two people received awards today, Betty and her classmate, Ron Hirano. At the table, most of us had known each other and been friends for at least 20 years, some twice that long. Betty’s friends included people from her “art life,” others from her “college life,” and many others from her “community life,” including people from the time she worked at Deafpride, Inc. as an alcohol/substance abuse counselor.

PADDY LADD was at the next table. Paddy is the Senior Lecturer in Deaf Studies at the University of Bristol in England. I didn’t expect him to remember that he met both Betty and me before, but he actually remembered it more clearly than I did. He came to our house for dinner when we shared a house with Margaret and Aloy Bibum about 15-20 years ago— he was friends with them in England, and was in DC for a year for the Dr. Doctor Chair in Deaf Studies. He very clearly remembers Betty taking him down to the basement where she had her art studio, and showing him not only her paintings, but her father’s artwork, too. He was struck by the power of the images, and Ralph’s clear illustrations touched his heart. 

BETTY WAS CALLED UP TO RECEIVE HER AWARD, walked about half way to the stage and fell. Really fell! Flat on her face. About 5 or 6 people rushed to help her up while I froze for a few moments, and when I reached her, she said she was fine. “I didn’t intend to fall for Gallaudet again,” Betty said when she reached the stage, and relieved laughter rippled through the room. After a shaky start— “The fall made everything zoom from my head!”— Betty read, and revised on the fly, a speech which focused on the times when Gallaudet affected her life. Kanny (aka Barbara Kannapell) was filming this, and put it up on YouTube, here’s the video, which shows the fall, but not all the folks helping Betty get up:

WE TRIED TO FIT EVERYONE and everything into this visit, because this was the first time we were back in DC in two years. So after the big event, we went out to Bethesda to meet one friend for coffee, then had dinner back in DC with another friend. 

Sunday’s windup & finish

Sunday’s plan went off without a hitch. First, we had brunch with a group of old friends, then later that afternoon we had some private time with Betty’s oldest and dearest friend, a true BFF, Barbara Kannapell and her partner, Eileen Paul, while our dogs played with each other. Then we drove back to Philadelphia. We left about 6 pm, and didn’t get home till nearly 11:00. We hit serious congestion four times during the drive, and stopped at the rest station for about 45 minutes to recharge before completing the trip. Our cats were fine— mad at us for leaving, but fine.

THANKS to David for hosting all three of us again, and to the friends back in Philly who took care of our cats. Thanks also to Sam Sonnenstrahl and his staff for their work putting this together, and to the LCCF/GUAA for the award. 

FEELINGS— Betty was going strong on excitement and adrenaline for the entire weekend. She’s done without her daily naps, or shortened them. She told me several times how wonderful she feels, and how good it was to see so many old friends. Me, I feel proud. 

More info: 

Abraham Lincoln and Gallaudet:

Charter Day:

Laurent Clerc Cultural Fund:

2009 LCCF Award Recipients:

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 9, 2009 1:20 pm

    It was an honor to see Betty G. Miller receive the Alice Cogswell award!! It seems fitting that she and Paddy Ladd both received honors as Paddy often writes about how we need to honor our ancestors…and although Betty is not yet an old ancestor, the time to celebrate the mother of de’VIA is NOW NOW…
    thanks to Betty and Nancy for coming to the event and for sharing their funny, warm selves

    ps Betty’s fall on the way to the stage was a heart-stopping moment….but her humor really helped relieve us all!

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