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MARCELLA M. MEYER, The Last of True Deaf Warriors

June 8, 2009

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The day of May 26, 2009 brought another milestone into the history of the Los Angeles Deaf Community and everywhere else, with the passing of Marcella Mae Meyer. As one of the founders and as the CEO of the Greater Los Angeles Agency of the Deaf (GLAD), Marcella brought upon incredible changes affecting the lives of Deaf and Hard of Hearing people everywhere.

Affectionately known as MMM, Marcella M. Meyer deserves this special tribute from the Deaf Democrats editors because of her steadfast behind-the-scenes support of this blog. Marcella had been a long-time supporter of the Democratic Party and held the distinction of being the first Deaf delegate to the California Democratic Party convention. Another compelling reason is that the current chapter in our Deaf history would not have been made possible without Marcella breaking barriers in a very GUTSY manner.

Marcella M. Meyer, (1925-2009), now belongs to a group of legendary Deaf leaders who stood at a pivotal period in our community history, leaders such as Frederick C. Schreiber, Don Pettingil, Ed Carney, T.J. O’Rourke, Jerry Jordan, Frank Bowie, Boyce Williams, etc. This group led the Deaf Community at a watershed point when civil rights, services and access came flooding into our community. One of Marcella’s enduring legacies stemmed from her creating the Greater Los Angeles Agency of the Deaf, Inc. (GLAD), using a concept derived from a Leadership Training Program position paper at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). There at GLAD, Marcella M. Meyer reigned supreme for 24 years.

Marcella M. Meyer used the GLAD platform to bombard the world with legislative and social changes. Her favorite means of bully-pulpiting were her renowned feature, Marcella’s Musings, in the GLAD News magazine, and at GLAD Council meetings and staff meetings. She provided a true and fine example of the famous conventional wisdom: Whatever happens in California, the rest of the nation will follow.

Among Ms. Meyer’s early victories was winning a legal battle for the right to sit on a jury, a precedent picked up by the rest of the nation; another victory involved the legislation requiring telephone companies to impose surcharges on all consumers to establish a telephone access fund. This resulted in both a statewide relay service (California Relay Service) and a free TTY equipment distribution program, with both models being copied by other states.

One of Marcella M. Meyer’s most colossal battles brought changes to the sign language interpreting evaluation systems. This all began when she challenged the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and its interpreter evaluation process by establishing a GLAD interpreter evaluation system. Her creation was adopted by the California Association of the Deaf (CAD) and then by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). This process evolved with RID and NAD merging their evaluation systems into one, now known as National Interpreting Certification (NIC) system. These are only a few examples of Marcella’s achievements.

Also, one can say that Marcella M. Meyer was the very original queen of social justice, as she had the foresight to set up innovative programs dealing with issues that no one dared to touch — issues such as mental health, substance abuse, women’s issues, HIV/AIDS, smoking cessation, to name a few. More often than not, the issues and practices that she advocated would end up becoming buzz words or concepts in the mainstream society. One cannot help wonder where she got all her insights into the needs of our community and the world. Marcella herself was the epitome of this adage: A good leader leads people to where they want to go. A great leader leads people to places where they feel uncomfortable going.

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An excerpt from the GLAD News magazine
upon Marcella M. Meyer’s retirement…

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Marcella M. Meyer was such a trailblazer that she left a transforming impact on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities. However, all her efforts and victories did not come without blood, sweat and tears. Her brash manner in creating social changes oftentimes ruffled feathers everywhere she went, as she seemed impatient with conventional methods and would rather see concrete results in the shortest time possible. An example of the legacy of her driving force was the acquisition of the current GLAD headquarters / community center at a historical landmark building in a Los Angeles suburb.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri during the Roaring 20’s, Marcella M. Meyer grew up and lived in a world where job opportunities for Deaf people were limited to manual labor such as printing, dry-cleaning, factory work, housecleaning, etc. Also, Marcella’s life paralleled that of the 20th century American history, being a factory worker during the Second World War and holding several different jobs during the booming postwar economy. Additionally, Marcella was one of the people who contributed to the creation of the postwar baby boomer generation by bearing three hearing daughters, with her first husband. During the 1960s, after going through two marriages, she took her daughters to California to start a new life which included another marriage, this time to Lenny Meyer, a teacher at Selaco High School in Downey, California.

Nowhere in Marcella M. Meyer’s life story up to this point was there any indication of the greatness she would achieve later in life, the qualities that would propel her to national and international stages. However, a close examination on the latter part of her life shows that the tipping point most likely came from her three daughters. They got involved in social issues of the day and causes such as the women’s liberation movement, and they brought a social awakening and political awareness to their mother. The rest was HERSTORY!!

Of all her achievements, Marcella M. Meyer often said that her greatest accomplishment was the raising of her three daughters – Jamalee Plank, Coleen Ashly and Michele Balfe. This statement of Marcella’s is not too surprising because of her renowned mothering instincts which she also shared with the Deaf Community. These days, stories from countless Deaf women and men abound about her incredible mentorship which included her pearly words of wisdom, her earthy and sometimes bawdy sense of humor, along with barrels of tough love!

Marcella’s daughters have taken on her superb mothering instincts while raising Marcella’s five grandchildren. Now some of her grandchildren are following Marcella’s example in providing active public service, including a granddaughter becoming an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), a grandson in the military, and an attorney granddaughter who recently argued before the Ohio State Supreme Court.

Marcella M. Meyer was one amazing woman who rose to the challenges of her times and who responded in a splendid manner and turned our community upside down. To give her our due honor and to remember her with reverence, a memorial service will be conducted at the Greater Los Angeles Agency for the Deaf Headquarters (2222 Laverna) on Sunday, June 14th, 2009, starting at 2 p.m. Also, you can read her obituaries in two newspapers, Los Angeles Times and Kansas City Star.

(Editor’s note: After the memorial service honoring Marcella M. Meyer at GLAD, the Los Angeles Times ran another obituary, this time with a feature story on her.)

To Marcella M. Meyer, the last of true Deaf Warriors, we doubt if we will ever see the likes of you again. We shall miss you TERRIBLY!

(Written by Christine “CB” Buchholz and Vikee Waltrip)

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MMM and daughters

Marcella M. Meyer with her daughters —
Coleen Ashly, Michele Balfe and Jamalee Plank

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We at the
Deaf Democrats blog encourage you to visit the condolence book below and add in your comments.
(If you don’t see the condolence book,
click on “# comments” below to open it.)
In observance of our famous tradition,
please keep your comments to 350 words.
Yes, 350 words instead of 250 words this time! Thanks!

And long live Marcella M. Meyer, through each one of us!!

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32 comments

  1. A good friend of mine, Barbara Goettsch-Mathis via VP informed me of Marcella Meyer’s passing. From California to Virginia comes the sad news of a powerful GIANT WOMAN! GOSH, it took someone like her to pave the road for thousands thousands of us DEAF to have the accessibility we are blessed with today!!!! It is most fitting to enshrine her name and soul forever across the nation with a statue and a sword in her hand. She will live forever in History with utmost Respect.


  2. We haven’t really lost Marcella – her warrior spirit is evinced in the many individuals she has inspired in her long life of activism and caring nurturence. Each of us will always carry a special memory of “MMM” in our hearts always and forever.

    My condolences to Marcella’s family and close friends.


  3. I never knew Marcella personally, although of course I knew of her and her work with GLAD. Thank you for sharing more of what she helped us Deaf to achieve. She was truly one of the Deaf giants, and she will be missed by all of us. We can honor her by continuing to attempt to follow in her footsteps by working toward achieving change in our society to benefit all Deaf people.


  4. I have met Marcella a few years ago, when I worked at an agency under the GLAD umbrella. It was a true privilege.

    My condolences goes out to her family. May the memories of Marcella bring comfort and strength to her family in this tough time.


  5. CB and Vikee!

    Thank you for a great write-up of Marcella! You clearly understood who she is.

    As past CEO of several organizations, I recieved many tips from her on how to “stay above water”. She did it with humor and was fun to laugh with.

    I will miss her spirit and her “GUSTY” personality!

    Dear God…. be ready, Marcella is gonna keep you busy! Amen.


  6. Beautiful tribute to Marcella! Thank you Cb and Vikee for being Marcella-like, in getting this posted! A tribute to a woman who is very much part of our Deaf History! Gosh, endless memories come to mind looking at those pictures! Agree with BJ, exactly how I said to some already, Marcella is going to have a “good talk” with God! Smile. Her legacy, lives within all of us, up to us, to apply her spirit, and most of all do it with integrity to all that we do. In the name of Unity, for us all, to share and do it, together.
    …Salute!
    xoxoxo


  7. What a fitting tribute to an extraordinary person. Marcella was my dear friend and a tremendous influence on my life. I shall miss having someone who would tell me exactly what she thought regardless of the number of times I disagreed with her. I am grateful for the privilege of knowing such a classy lady.


  8. Thank you so much Vicki and CB for the lovely tribute to my Mom. When my Mom passed I asked her to keep an eye on us all just to make sure we weren’t making any wrong decisions. I’m sure she is doing this for us all and for the precious deaf community that she loved and cherished so much.. Thank you again so much for the beautiful tribute..


  9. Thank you to everyone and your kind words. I always knew Granny was super woman! It is now apparent how many lives she has touched. Cheers to the toughest woman I’ve ever known! I love you Speed Granny!!!!


    • I did a search for your name today and came up with this. I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your grandmother, I remember what a spitfire she was.

      Send me and email when you get a chance, I would love to chat with you.


      • OMG!!!!! Is this Shannon?! Wow!!! I’ve been wondering if that was you. I got an update on Reunion saying a woman from Placentia was searching my name. Gosh, it’s good to know you’re still alive! Shoot me an email whenever you want. My address is ——-. Would love to get together with you. I live in east Anaheim with my boyfriend. Thank you for your condolences. I sure do miss my granny! Talk soon….Andrea.


  10. Thank you for the beautiful write up on my dear beloved Grandmother. I miss her so much already. She taught me so much about fighting for what you believe in. She was a very direct and honest person who didn’t mince words but was also generous with her smiles and had the best laugh! I always felt so blessed to have her not only as my grandmother but as my personal window to the deaf community which was an amazing thing to be a part of. I hope I can maintain that connection for the rest of my life, through all the other wonderful people I know because of my Granny.


  11. MM is looking down with a big smile on this article! Thank you V~ and CB for doing this. I felt like I have known her all my life just by reading this.

    What a remarkable woman.


  12. The Deaf Democrats,

    Many thanks for such an eloquent and heartwarming tribute to the most underappreciated and underrated deaf leader like MMM.

    Unforunately, I never met this classy and gutsy deaf lady as many of you described her that way.

    We really need more MMM in our deaf community at
    large. I really hope that the NAD will have the formal recognizance of this very fine lady, ex. the
    leadership foundation with her name on it.

    Robert L. Mason (RLM)


  13. Wow…what a warrior spirit! That was a beautiful tribute that taught me a lot about a woman I met 25 years ago as my neighbor in Silver Lake. I am so glad I made the choice to go to Ojai a few weeks ago to celebrate Jesse’s graduation from nursing school. I had an opportunity to see Marcella before her transition. I never knew the extent of her contributions to the community. I’m sure she’s in a good place smiling down on all of us. God bless.


  14. I echo the sentiments of my aunt Micki and my cousins Andrea and Jessie. We were privileged to have her for a mother and grandmother, and I have always known that. And I have always known that she was a “mover and shaker” in the Deaf Community. But being one of the long-distant grandchildren, it is only now through your comments that I realize just how special she was to so many people she never even met. I truly appreciate your comments – they revealed to me that she truly was as special a person as I always knew!

    Rest now, Beloved Matriarch.


  15. Vikee and CB — Thanks for eloquently putting into words how so many of us feel about MMM. I know we all gained personally and professionally from Marcella’s chutzpah and vision, but there is no way I could express all I have learned from her. I had the wonderful good fortune of working with her at GLAD for many years. There was never a moment of challenge nor confict– opps I think that was the “Leave it to Beaver” show. Thank you MMM for taking me along on one part of your journey. I would never trade it for anything. And to the rest of my GLAD family (and you know who you are), take care.


  16. Thank you, I very happy to read about MMM. I explained my other deaf friends. They agree MMM true deaf warrior. They met MMM many years ago with GLAD and MMM helped very much. We pray for MMM family.


  17. Thank you everyone for your sentiments on this special tribute to Marcella.

    I want to clarify one thing abt this article…CB did most of the writing and I was simply the sounding board.

    Please keep your comments coming. Don’t just read, stop by and say hello. The family would really appreciate that!


  18. I will always remember Marcella as a tough cookie. She held her interpreters to a higher standard. Thank you MMM for taking a chance on me in 1984. Much love and peace.


  19. Vikee,

    Thanks for your comments! Honestly, I don’t see how I could have written this tribute without your assistance. This has been one fantastic trip down the memory lane for us when writing this tribute!!

    Echoing Vikee’s plea, yes, please keep your comments coming. We have already heard millions of stories about MMM and we want to see them written down!!! The more, the merrier as MMM was one of a kind!!!


  20. Marcella is one of a kind, she will be greatly missed by those whose lives were forever changed. As a colleague and leader, working side by side, I am privileged having known her. A memory forever etched in me: one community event lobbying for a much needed change, a right thing to do for the Los Angeles deaf community at that time in spite of naysayers … she cut to the chase, straightforward and to the point. Her m.o. was “we will do it anyway with or without you!” A true warrior with a golden heart in the best interest of deaf people everywhere. I shall miss her.


  21. WOW–I love how you both, CB and Vikee, eloquently wrote about Marcella. The warrior picture of Marcella is so fitting! I first met her when I was 19 during my early days at CSUN. Her presence was so STRONG … she created golden years for many of us Deaf people to enjoy. Don’t forget her last project was with DHH Community Blog with many of us Deaf women. It was such an incredible privilege to be working with her during the time of the second Gallaudet University protest (2006). I would love to find a way to bring back those blog articles in Marcella’s honor! Thank you for doing this beautiful tribute to our last warrior. God bless! Lots of love– Julie


  22. WOW, what an amazing tribute. I can’t say thank you enough. I will never forget the bond that my Granny had with so many people. I have always looked up to her and always will. I will pass on as many traits to my children that Granny has taught me. I was so very blessed to have her in my life and will always cherish the memories that I have of her. Again thank you to all that worked on this tribute. Love you Granny!


  23. Beautiful tribute to Marcella. She did run a tight ship and expected the best.She did have the best laugh, Jessie. It was absolutely a great experience working with Marcella, such a rock of strength and ambition. One woman who brought about empowerment because she had fortitude; equal rights because she had strength; and public services because she had compassion. She was loved by many and will be greatly missed.


  24. Truly lovely tribute and remarks. Woo! I’ve tears in my eyes as I type this…

    Marcella was one gutsy person, right up there with the female pioneers of history and not just among deaf women!

    She didn’t beat around the bush, got folks to pay attention to her – even when they didn’t like what she said.

    I loved her for her straightforwardness, honesty, and integrity. She was a role model, empowering and inspiring countless people whose lives she touched. She not only gave back to her community in Los Angeles – she did so across the country including the NAD.

    Those of us who have had the privilege of knowing and working with her shall continue to carry on her spirit, honoring her magnificent social justice legacy.

    That twinkle in her eyes and hearty laughter will always be with me.

    Here’s to you, Marcella!


  25. I first met Marcella in 1980 when I was a student in the Leadership Training Program at CSUN. Almost everyone warned me to stay away from her, that she was a bitch. I am glad I ignored them because I met a Deaf person who walked the talk, who truly cared for her Deaf community. If she had been born a man, all these detractors would have said “Marcella is a great man!” These detractors just couldn’t handle a woman doing “a man’s job.” And what a job she did! Indeed, she was a warrior, and is going to be missed tremendously. The best way we can honor Marcella is to follow in her footsteps. Roll up your sleeves and get to work – there is lots more still to be done and when the going gets tough just remember Marcella is there alongside you helping you along.


  26. I was privileged to serve on the GLAD Executive Board for many years while MMM reigned as CEO of GLAD; a very special honor I will forever endear. Thank you Marcela for teaching me the leadership skills necessary to continue your legend of advocacy and change. You will remain forever, in my heart.


  27. Thank you for the wonderful tribute written by CB and Vickee, it moved me to tears. Thank you for all the responses written on this comments page. Marcella was a woman of many dimensions. Her daughters were there to watch her evolve into this social justice advocate. Here on Marcells’s Day in LA I miss her so much and feel so much gratitude to everyone who has responded during this time of grief for all of her family and friends.
    Jamalee Plank (Marcella’s oldest daughter)


  28. I am sorry to hear the passing of MMM. I think she did a great thing to help the deaf community by being a strong advocate for their rights. My only regret with MMM is that I was unable to get her support in the organization that I was forming at the time when I first met her about 25 years ago. I was organizaing Deaf Disco parties for the Deaf and H/H. I approached her and asked her if she could help me publicized the parties to the deaf community. She looked at me as if I was crazy. I knew that she meant no. So I had to figured out a way on my own to make these parties work and I did. I just started my own mailing list and eventually the parties became successful. That was the only beef I had with MMM. Because of her refusal, I had to work harder than necessary. My time and hard work paid off. I figured that since she worked hard to accomplished what she did, I had to work just as hard. In hindsight, MMM, was truly a pioneer in merging the deaf community to what it is today.


  29. One of Marcella’s greatest gifts was that of unity.
    She unified our community and helped us to know that if we worked together using all of our indiviudal gifts and talents, great things would happen. On a personal note, Marcella was a great role model for me and I am deeply grateful that I had the chance to know her. Marcella, thank you. Your legacy lives on!


  30. I was shocked to learn of MMM’s death. I was surfing the net and decided to google up MMM and that was how i found out… MMM was really tough but fair person.. I have gotten to know her as CEO of Glad when I first met her in GLAD’s old office on Westmoreland Ave, just a few blocks from my apt in California! 🙂 I know for a fact she will be missed not only by me but I am sure from all deaf people that she has gotten to know as the years went by.. My condolences to MMM’s family.



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