Tony Hall, 23, deaf, blind student who overcame through help of guardian

June 27, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Throughout his life, Tony Hall was never able to see or hear the voices of those who cared about him the most.

Deaf since birth and blind since a toddler, Mr. Hall -- who was classified as mentally retarded -- seemed destined to become another institutional statistic. But in 1984, Nancy Foster, a teacher's aide at the Maryland School for the Blind where he was a student, realized that the troubled and disruptive 12-year-old had great potential and an untapped zest for life.

Born Anthony Eugene Hall in Frederick, he lived in Randallstown with Ms. Foster, initially his foster mother and later his legal guardian, until his death Friday of undetermined causes at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center. He was 23.

When he was a baby, social workers removed him from home after his mother left his father and two other children. A dozen foster homes followed until Ms. Foster intervened and swore that her home would be his last.

In recent years, he was able with Ms. Foster's help to rekindle a relationship with his father, brother and sister, who live in Frederick.

"Tony and I connected from the beginning and were very special to one another. It happened. It clicked," said Ms. Foster.

At the School for the Blind where his frustrations led to tantrums, Ms. Foster would escort young Tony to the gym's treadmill, where he would run until exhausted.

Eventually, the anger subsided, and he no longer needed the treadmill as he learned through Ms. Foster and his other teachers how to control his emotions.

It was Ms. Foster's contention that most of his problems were a result of his inability to communicate and that school staff and students did not know the type of sign language where words are signed in the palm of the hand -- the type of signing that a deaf-blind person requires.

In 1993, he was sent to the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Mass., perhaps the nation's most famous school for deaf-blind students. Its graduates include Helen Keller, one of Ms. Foster's lifelong heroes.

While at Perkins, he blossomed. He took a date to his prom, lived in an apartment with other deaf-blind students from the school and worked at four jobs. He learned to manage his time and money and even fly home unassisted to visit Ms. Foster.

Mr. Hall graduated from Perkins in 1995 and was scheduled to graduate this summer from the Helen Keller National Center at Sands Point, N.Y., where he had been studying. He had recently returned home to Maryland because of medical problems.

"He was the most amazing person that I've ever met. What he gave me people can't understand. He changed my life, and it'll never be the same," said Ms. Foster.

"He taught me how to love truer, and he taught me the things that are important in life. He loved unconditionally, and most people don't have that capacity," said Ms. Foster.

One of Mr. Hall's teachers for five years at the School for the Blind was Julie Gaynor, who admitted that "we dragged Tony through a lot of things in order to get him to communicate."

"I think what made Tony different is that he had a drive in him that made him want to reach out to the rest of the world," she said.

No athletic challenge was too great for Mr. Hall, who enjoyed swimming, basketball and skiing with Mrs. Gaynor's two sons.

"Our adventures together will always be special to me," Mrs. Gaynor wrote in a letter to Mr. Hall. "You have taught me never to give up, to try and appreciate everything and to be kind to everyone. Because of you, everyone you met is a better person."

He was a member of Sugarloaf Mountain Community Church in Frederick.

In addition to Ms. Foster, he is survived by his father, Reginald Hall; a brother, Kelley Athey; and a sister, Stacey Hall, all of Frederick.

Services were held yesterday at Asbury United Methodist Church in Frederick.

Memorial donations may be made to Perkins School for the Blind, 175 N. Beacon St., Watertown, Mass. 02172; or Helen Keller National Center, 111 Middle Neck Road, Sands Point, N.Y. 11050.

Pub Date: 6/27/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.