R. Orin Cornett, 89, Gallaudet official

December 24, 2002

R. Orin Cornett, an educator honored as the inventor of cued speech and former vice president at Gallaudet University, died of heart failure Dec. 17 at his Laurel home. He was 89.

An Oklahoma native, he held a doctorate in physics and applied mathematics from the University of Texas, and taught at Oklahoma Baptist, Penn State and Harvard universities.

In 1959, he became director of the Division of Higher Education at the U.S. Office of Education, and while reviewing Gallaudet's funding was appalled to learn that most deaf people had sublevel reading skills.

In 1965, he accepted a position as vice president for long-range planning at Gallaudet. During his first year, he developed cued speech to help hearing-impaired children become good readers.

Cued speech, in the English language, uses eight hand shapes in four locations ("cues") in combination with the natural mouth movements of speech, to make all the sounds of spoken language look different, according to the National Cued Speech Association.

Dr. Cornett adapted the technique to all but four of the 56 languages and major dialects in which it is available.

Dr. Cornett also addressed a problem of Gallaudet's football team -- offside penalties. He suggested the offense have a large bass drum near the line of scrimmage, allowing the players to time the snap of the ball by feeling the vibration as it was hit.

Dr. Cornett's wife of 59 years, the former Lorene Elizabeth Huston, died in January.

An interpreted memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at First Baptist Church of Laurel, 811 Fifth St.

Surviving are two sons, Robert Cornett of Cheverly and Stanley Cornett of Baltimore; a daughter, Linda Badley of Murfreesboro, Tenn.; and three granddaughters.

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