IM this article to a friend!

January 16, 2003

Robert Lee Klausing, 75, dies; helped start phone service for deaf

From: Louisville Courier Journal, KY - 16 Jan 2003

By Paula Burba
The Courier-Journal

Robert Lee Klausing, who set in motion Louisville's telephone relay service for the deaf, died Tuesday at Baptist Hospital East after a long illness. He was 75.

His youngest son, George, was born deaf in 1953 and attended the nearest Catholic school for the deaf -- St. Rita School for the Deaf in Cincinnati.

Klausing, a 20-year veteran of the old Southern Bell Telephone Co. in the late 1960s, found himself in a position to make available to the deaf a new means of communication. He began soliciting donations of old teletypewriters from companies he frequently visited as part of his job.

He collected more than 1,000 of the machines, which were given to deaf people, according to the Kentucky Relay Service. The teletypewriters, or TTYs, were converted by volunteers so they could be used in the city's first relay service, located in the Louisville police station downtown.

At first, the service allowed deaf people to communicate only with each other by typing on the converted TTYs.

The deaf were not only isolated from the hearing, ''they were isolated from each other,'' said Bob Stuckey, outreach coordinator for the Kentucky Relay Society. They had to walk or drive to a doctor's office, or rely on others, just to make an appointment, he said.

The modern relay service, TDD, developed much later, allows a hearing person to communicate with a deaf person.

''Now they can order flowers for their wife. They can order a pizza,'' said Norma Lewis, one of the first interpreters for the deaf in Louisville. ''It was Bob who opened the door in this state'' for that.

Klausing's job ''fit perfectly'' with his mission, his widow, Mary Jane Klausing, said yesterday.

During his career, he worked as an engineer, a lineman and a salesman for the local phone company through at least three corporate transitions.

Klausing retired from AT&T in the mid-1980s as a communications systems analyst in marketing after 38 years in the telephone business.

Klausing is also survived by sons Robert Jr. and James, and a daughter, Cathy Mathes.

Copyright 2002 The Courier-Journal.