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Tribute to Dr. John Pettit (1935 – 2010)

John Pettit was the Coordinator of Clinical Services and Training at the University of Maine in Orono from 1981 to 1995 and completed his career as Chair of the Communication Disorders program at Radford University in Virginia. John was an active and enthusiastic member of the ASHA’s Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders, serving a variety of functions during his years with the Council. He was president of the Council from 1990-91, received the Distinguished Contribution Award in 1992 and received the Honors of the Council in 1996. John was also a fellow of ASHA and one of his proudest professional achievements involved his time as a Mayo Clinic Fellow. John is survived by his wonderful wife Betty.

Below are reflections from the University of Maine, CSD faculty past and present who knew John as a distinguished colleague and friend:

Nancy Hall: John was very inspirational to students. He had a passion and energy about speech-language pathology unmatched by others!

Marisue Pickering: I remember John fondly as someone who cared deeply about his students and who often went out of his way to help others. His great smile and his enthusiasm was always a pleasure to experience!

Susan K. Riley: John was a very popular teacher. …He was always able to bring his lectures to life with stories from his wide ranging clinical experiences and his uncanny ability to demonstrate an impressive range of speech-language disorders. That was the part of John that was a performer. And he was literally, a performer. He had a wonderful singing voice and was a member of a barbershop group for years. He loved being on stage, loved singing. John never left his clinical roots and his love of clinical work was always evident in his teaching.

Polly Camp: Over the years I have known John Pettit as teacher, colleague and friend. There was no one who could teach a course on Voice Disorders with such enthusiasm, imitate specific disorders and display such perfect pitch. Years later, as a colleague, we bought concert tickets to watch him conduct the Barbershop Quartet with the same enthusiasm. John supported my sometimes awkward beginnings as a clinical supervisor and throughout all of these stages I considered him a friend. He played a huge part at Conley and will be remembered fondly by many of us.

Below are comments from former students in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, University of Maine:

Jack Pickering, Ph.D., CCC-SLP (Associate Professor and Speech-Language Pathologist; The College of Saint Rose and Capital Region ENT Albany, NY): John Pettit is the reason why I am a speech-language pathologist and college professor… He was my first college advisor, my first externship supervisor, and my first mentor. He encouraged me with his enthusiasm. His idea for a thesis (studying male voices that were perceived to be effeminate) seemed farfetched at first, but became my springboard to learn about voice, spectrography, and research methods. Like the other faculty members in UMaine’s human communication department, John thought beyond our discipline – he was genuinely curious about the voice, gender, and communication. He seemed to know in the early 1980′s that speech-language pathologists would someday be interested in transgender voice and communication. I’m sure he would be tickled to know, 30 years since that master’s thesis, that I was the director of a voice program for transgender clients. How did he know? It was John who suggested I contact Bernard Henri about my first SLP position. Thanks John! He encouraged me to submit my thesis for an ASHA presentation – in San Francisco… I remember that first ASHA convention quite vividly…in fact, at one point we stopped at a street corner in San Francisco. John thought it would be fun to sing a Barbershop number. We each had a part, and John was our conductor. One of the most powerful memories I have of John Pettit was when I was going into Eastern Maine Medical Center to work with my first externship client with aphasia. John was there with me, serving as my clinical supervisor. I was so nervous thinking about my activities, my strategies, my stimuli. Then, I saw John introduce himself to the gentleman; he shook his hand and had a brief conversation. All of a sudden, I felt myself relax. An important part (perhaps the most important part) of my work with this person was already done. Thanks John. I miss you.

Mike Towey, M.A., CCC-SLP (Voice and Swallowing Center of Maine; Waldo County General Hospital): His passing leaves me with a deep sense of loss. Certainly, our profession is diminished by his loss. I’m sadly missing this special mentor and friend. In my time at UM, Dr. Pettit was a kind and caring mentor. More than that, he helped instill in many students a deep love of our profession and a sense of professionalism that stays with me today. Everybody loved Dr. Pettit. I recall in clinic one day during my grad program, I was working with a student with puberphonia. This student was told he could not be a teacher with his high squeaky voice and John and the rest of the grad students were in the observation room. I was trying to establish his pitch using a pitch pipe (nope, no fancy computer programs back then!). I am totally without any, I mean any, sense of being able to hear pitch. I didn’t have a clue about what I was doing. I’m blowing the pitch pipe, he’s matching the pitch, I’m saying “That’s good” and it was not even close! I could hear this muffled laughter from ‘through the glass”. I told the student/client to take a break and went around to the observation room, where John was doubled up with laughter at my totally inept pitch assessment. BTW: We fixed the student’s voice that day, but John never forgot about the pitch pipe incident…it gave us many good chuckles over many years.

Dr. Candace Bray (learning disabilities consultant throughout the State of Maine): Dr. John Pettit changed my life. I was seriously considering dropping out of college, but stayed for an additional semester. I ended up taking a course from Dr. Pettit on communication disorders…it was the best course I had ever taken and turned my life into the direction I still pursue. During the course taught by this outstanding individual, I decided to change my major and to focus on communication disorders…so..the path I have traveled was truly inspired and guided by Dr. Pettit…even to this day. This is indeed very sad news, but to all have been touched by his life…let us celebrate Dr. Pettit.

Dale Bailey (M.A., CCC-SLP; Fort Kent, Maine): I had Dr. Pettit for Introduction to Communication Disorders. This was the first class you took as a communication disorders student, and the class was a huge class because many education majors took the class as well. I remember Dr. Pettit’s most uncanny ability to model disordered speech. Whether it was dysarthria, apraxia, aphasia, disfluency, he was great at modeling it all!! I am sure that his animated presentation brought many students into the major. He will be missed.

Gay Haroutunian (CCC-SLP; rural northern Maine): I have such fond memories of him back in the old days when there were only a handful of us at the MSHA (as it was called back then) conferences. He had such a friendly and positive spirit. It was always a pleasure to run into him. What a loss to our profession, his family and friends, and the communities in which he lived. He will be missed by many.