Louis M. Balfour

[Age 98] The newspaper Linotype operator spent years researching the history of the deaf.

"He believed that deaf people have a normal life the same as other people," said a Gallaudet University archivist.

June 15, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

Louis M. Balfour, a retired newspaper Linotype operator and a researcher of the history of the deaf, died June 8 of complications from pneumonia at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. He was 98.

Mr. Balfour, the son of Lithuanian immigrants, was born the fourth of seven children in Baltimore and spent his early years in the 1400 block of E. Fayette St. He later moved with his family to Pittsburgh, Chicago and finally Richmond, Va.

Born deaf, Mr. Balfour and his sister, Ida, who was also deaf at birth, were sent to the Virginia School for the Deaf in Staunton.

While at the school, he earned Eagle Scout status and learned the trade of Linotype operator.

He graduated from the school in 1930 at a time when jobs for Linotype operators were scarce because of the Depression, so he worked as a Boy Scout leader and wallpaper hanger with his father and grandfather.

From 1942 to 1944, Mr. Balfour worked as a printer at newspaper plants in the Washington area and for the Army Map Service from 1944 to 1948, when he became a Linotype operator at the old Washington Times Herald.

He subsequently worked at The Washington Post and for 19 years at the old Washington Evening Star. He retired in 1974.

He was a 60-year member of Columbia Typographical Union 101-12.

Throughout much of his life, Mr. Balfour researched and compiled data on deaf education and deaf people who worked as peddlers.

He was a well-known figure at the District of Columbia Historical Society, and his papers are archived at Gallaudet University, where they are open to the public without restriction for research, family members said.

The collection, which consists of approximately 22,100 pages, spans the years 1926 to 2003, and includes letters, clippings, certificates, diaries, poems, receipts, greeting cards, postcards, manual alphabet cards produced by deaf peddlers, research notes and business cards.

The focus of much of the collection is on the history of deaf education and those individuals associated with the subject ranging from the 1940s through the 1990s.

"Louis was an extraordinary and zealous man. It is very fortunate that the Gallaudet archives holds his papers, and we are most grateful that he donated them to the archives," wrote Michael J. Olson, a deaf Gallaudet archivist and technician, in an e-mail response to questions. "Many times I begged him to donate them, and he resisted until he finally decided to donate them."

The largest single subject covered in Mr. Balfour's papers is the history of deaf people who worked as peddlers.

"From what I have seen among his papers, he worked feverishly on writing letters to people, especially congressmen and federal authorities, to encourage them to make laws against deaf peddlers selling ABC cards," Mr. Olson wrote.

"Not only that, he also wrote to superintendents and principals of schools for the deaf and deaf organizations about the exploitation of deaf peddlers," he wrote.

"It is my feeling that Louis probably educated people to understanding the deaf peddler's way of life and also that deaf people are not like that stereotype. He believed that deaf people have a normal life the same as other people. They are educated and have families and jobs," Mr. Olson wrote.

"He believed that hard work and perseverance would lead to a successful living rather than peddling. My dad figured if he could pull himself up by his bootstraps, others could, too," said a daughter, Patricia B. Smith of Towson.

Mr. Balfour was a member of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, Convention of American Instructors of the Deaf, the Connecticut Historical Society, Gallaudet Alumni Association and the Virginia Historical Society.

In 1938, he married the former Mildred White and the couple lived in Chevy Chase for many years.

"She was a beautiful, petite Baptist deaf woman who remained his loving bride until she passed away in 2004," Mrs. Smith said. "They had four children, all hearing."

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. July 6 at Hunt Valley Church, 13015 Beaver Dam Road, Hunt Valley.

Also surviving are two sons, Robert W. Balfour of Greencastle, Pa., and L. Timberlake "Tim" Balfour of Silver Spring; another daughter, Josephine C. Kulik of Littleton, Colo.; and a grandson.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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