Educator Robert Panara, the first deaf faculty member of RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, is being honored by the U.S. Postal Service with a stamp, and the community is invited to the celebration.
The 16th stamp in the Distinguished Americans series features Panara, an influential professor and pioneer in the field of deaf studies and one of the founders of the National Theatre of the Deaf. The formal date of issue will take place at 10 a.m. April 11 in Panara Theatre, Lyndon Baines Johnson Hall.
The stamp features a photograph of Panara signing the word “respect” taken by RIT/NTID photographer Mark Benjamin and was designed by USPS art director Ethel Kessler.
“I’m very proud to see my dad honored and deaf culture recognized in this way, and I want to thank the personnel at the U.S. Postal Service Stamp Development Office for all their work in the design process,” said Panara’s son, John, also faculty at RIT/NTID.
During his teaching career, Robert Panara inspired generations of students, and his powerful use of American Sign Language to convey Shakespeare and other works of literature made him much beloved and respected by students and colleagues alike.
Panara was born hearing in Bronx, N.Y. At age 10, he contracted spinal meningitis, which left him profoundly deaf. He attended mainstream public schools and often relied on classmates to take notes for him or mouth words so he could lipread.
He graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City, learned sign language at the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Conn., and then earned a bachelor’s degree at Gallaudet College (now University) in 1940, where he wrote several papers that established him as a leader in the field of deaf education.
In 1965, he was invited by U.S. Secretary of Education John Gardner to serve on a national advisory board for the establishment of NTID. He began his career at NTID in 1967 and became its first deaf professor. He also established the English department at NTID. He founded the NTID Drama Club and was a founding member of the National Theatre of the Deaf, and has been honored by the World Federation of the Deaf for his contributions to education and culture.
Panara died in 2014 at the age of 94.
“Bob Panara’s contributions to the field of deaf studies, theater and education are indeed worthy of celebrating,” said Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “RIT/NTID and the entire deaf community is justifiably proud that Bob is being honored in such a meaningful way.”