Della Patricia Martinuzzi, 42, master of sign language

August 21, 1996|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Della Patricia Martinuzzi, a postal worker who learned sign language so that she could communicate with her housemate and others, died Saturday of Hodgkin's disease at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. She was 42 and lived in Essex.

"She signed because she just couldn't stand to see anyone as an outsider," said Betty L. Oglesby, a friend and colleague at the downtown post office. "She couldn't stand to see anyone ever cut off from others."

Ms. Martinuzzi, a Dundalk native, had some knowledge of

signing when she learned the finger spell method of sign language in 1970, in which every word is spelled out. She was proficient within two years.

Georgia Doran, who is deaf and shared a townhouse with Ms. Martinuzzi, said her housemate enjoyed engaging in long sign conversations, even with strangers.

"She wanted to make everyone feel good," Ms. Doran said through a translator. "She didn't want there to ever be a language barrier."

A deaf pizza deliveryman once made a delivery to their house. Ms. Martinuzzi at first was unaware of his disability.

"How much do I owe you?" she asked. He looked at her but did not answer.

She repeated the question, but this time also signed to ask if he was deaf. He nodded and the two had an extended sign conversation.

"That's just the kind of person she was -- she just liked everyone," Ms. Oglesby said.

In the early 1980s, after having mastered the finger spell form of sign language, she took courses in and mastered American Sign Language, which is more conceptual.

"She looked at little children who signed and saw how they tried and how easy it was for them to learn," Ms. Doran said. "She helped the deaf community where she worked because they were often cut off from the rest of the world."

Ms. Martinuzzi used her signing skills to help deaf patients at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Angie Baldwin, a social work case assistant at the hospital, said although Ms. Martinuzzi was paid for her services, her work far exceeded her earnings.

"She really thought she was doing a service for the deaf community," Ms. Baldwin said, adding that Ms. Martinuzzi once was a "coach" for a pregnant woman during a 12-hour delivery.

"From labor through delivery, she was signing through the whole process," Ms. Baldwin said.

Ms. Martinuzzi also was active at Central Christian Assembly Church in Essex, where she signed services. She also taught a signing course at the church, said Jerry Warner, a member.

"The church's main function was to preach the gospel, and some of those people who want to hear it are deaf," Mr. Warner said. "She helped them."

Ms. Martinuzzi, who was divorced, graduated from Kenwood High School in 1972 and worked various jobs before she joined the U.S. Postal Service in 1983.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. today at Central Christian Assembly Church, 7411 Rossville Blvd.

She is survived by a brother, William Strosnider of Georgetown, Texas; and a cousin, Grace Quirin of Altoona, Pa.

Pub Date: 8/21/96

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