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Deafness no obstacle for Father of the Year
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Staff Photo by Stacey Hairston: Harry Taylor of Glade Hill, left, and his daughter Tammy Fortune, enjoy spending time outdoors together. Taylor has been named the Virginia Association of the Deaf’s 2014 Father of the Year.

Monday, June 16, 2014


Father's Day is extra special this year for Harry Lynn Taylor of Glade Hill, as he has been named the Virginia Association of the Deaf's (VAD) 2014 Father of the Year.

"My father was nominated for this award because he and my mother are both good examples of what deaf parents should be," said Taylor's daughter, Tammy Taylor Fortune.

Both Taylor and his wife Margaret Spangler Taylor are deaf.

Each year, the VAD nominates a Father of the Year, as well as a Mother of the Year, to be recognized for their contributions as parents and to deaf-related organizations or local civic affairs.

Taylor was one of four children born to the late John and Lillian Taylor of Carterton.

At the age of 6 weeks, Taylor contracted whooping cough and measles, resulting in deafness, for which there is no cure.

Taylor was enrolled at the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind (VSDB) in 1947 and graduated in 1960 as class salutatorian.

While in school, Taylor was immediately introduced to American Sign Language (ASL) and excelled academically, as well as athletically. He loved basketball, football and baseball, with his quickness earning him the nickname, "Speedy."

He was a player on the 1959 basketball team which won the VSDB's first Mason-Dixon Tournament Championship title.

In October 2006, Taylor was inducted into the VSDB Athletic Association Hall of Fame.

Taylor chose to pursue a career in the printing profession and learned to operate a Linotype machine while in school.

Though he was one of only two people in his class to pass the entrance exam to Gallaudet University, he decided he would rather go to work straight out of school, especially since his future wife, Margaret, also a student at VSDB, wouldn't graduate until 1964.

"We wanted to wait until she graduated to get married," Taylor said.

Taylor landed his first job in 1960 working for the Lexington News-Gazette. He was then offered a position at the University of Virginia where he wrote the biographies of the vice president of the university.

In 1965, the Taylors married.

After working for a Charlottesville printing company for 17 years, the Taylors eventually moved to Franklin County where Taylor went to work for Burrough's, a printing company in Rocky Mount.

Burrough's was bought by Standard Register and Taylor remained there for 24 years until the company closed for good in 2001.

Fortune says growing up as an only child with deaf parents has been a blessing.

"I am so grateful for my dad's influence in my life," said Fortune. "From the time I was born, my parents said that I sat in the high chair and watched them talk to each other. I learned sign language the same way that children in hearing families learned to talk. Sign language is actually my first language. Dad has always believed that I would do great things in the field of deafness and interpreting. I always kept that in my mind as I looked for a career."

Hearing families use sounds in their household, such as doorbells and ringing telephones. Fortune said the Taylors use doors and phones that flash and light up.

"Closed-captioning has helped a lot now that Tammy has grown up and moved away," said Taylor.

As with most CODAs (Children of Deaf Adults), Fortune would accompany her parents to doctor's appointments, restaurants, tax preparations, church and many other situations where an interpreter was needed.

"Some CODAs may not appreciate the experiences, but I loved it," said Fortune. "I loved the knowledge I gained and I was much more mature for my age when I entered into high school and college. I had the best of the hearing and the deaf worlds. For that, I am very grateful."

Fortune said she remembers her first experience interpreting for her dad.

"We went to the hardware store where my dad was going to get a hunting license," she said. "We went up to the counter and the salesman couldn't see me. He could see my dad signing and could hear my four-year-old voice saying big words like "license," "big game," and other words relating to hunting. The man was stunned that I knew exactly what to say. I guess that would have been the official start of my career."

Fortune is now a nationally-certified sign language interpreter and works for Lynchburg City Schools as an educational interpreter. She also works for Sorenson Communications as a video relay interpreter and as a community freelance interpreter. 

"My parents encouraged me to become an interpreter, and it is only because of their devotion, encouragement and influence to me that I have this career in interpreting, presenting and teaching ASL. I am very grateful for my parents and their hard work, their experience and their love. I can't think of two people who are more deserving of this honor."

The Taylors have been members of Glade Hill Baptist Church since 1979.

In addition to one child, they have two grandsons, Clint, 12 and Jonathan, 7.

Taylor said he enjoys spending time with his grandsons, reading the newspaper, solving word puzzles, working outside, watching sports and hunting. He also enjoys traveling with his wife and says they have visited 48 out of 50 states.

Taylor is proud of Fortune's dedication to helping many deaf people. 

"I am really proud to receive this award," he said. "When I got the award letter, I was shocked. It was hard to believe. I'm very proud of Tammy. She has always been a good girl growing up and we never had any trouble out of her. And she's smart, too."

"Mom and dad honor each other, me and God by being married for almost 49 years," said Fortune. "I am proud of both of my parents, what they have accomplished and the beautiful people they became. I am not ashamed of their deafness. I am blessed."

Story interpreted by Tammy Taylor Fortune.

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