Obituary: Bob McCullough

bob mccullough

The deaf world lost another of its inspirational figures recently with the passing of Bob McCullough. Bob’s colleague at the Belfast Telegraph, Alf McCreary, paid this tribute.

Bob, who was brought up on the Shankill Road in Belfast, once remarked that there was a great togetherness among deaf people from Northern Ireland’s two main communities.

“We could not hear the bombs or the bullets or the political arguments,” he said. “We never thought of ourselves as Protestants or Catholics, but as deaf people living in a hearing world.”

At the age of 12 Bob’s parents sent him to a private school, where he met another pupil called Evelyn who was nine.

In adult life they married, and were together for more than 50 years.

Evelyn was the first deaf teacher at Jordanstown Schools, but it was not until mid-life that Bob started out in journalism.

He was asked to teach adults at a local further higher education college, and later took O-levels and A-levels and obtained a BA in English from the Open University. The course took him six years.

While teaching at a college, he discovered the father of one of his pupils was a journalist at the Belfast Telegraph, and he asked if there was any chance of writing a column on living with deafness.

He was given a six-week trial, and the response from readers and public was so good that he continued the column for over 30 years.

“I knew that I had to have good English, but no one ever asked me to stop, so there must have been a high regard for what I wrote,” he said.

As a Shankill Road boy, Bob was always wary of crossing to the Falls.But he recalled a visit to his grandmother on the Shankill, saying: “Some of my deaf friends from the Falls came over to greet me, and I appreciated that very much.”

In his weekly column, Bob covered many topics, including education for the deaf and other subjects, and was widely read by deaf and hearing people, as well as within Deaf Services.

He was awarded honours for his contribution to the work of the British Deaf Association, and by UTV for his weekly column.

Bob was highly regarded inside and outside the deaf community. He was heavily involved in establishing the Ulster Deaf Sports Council and the Northern Ireland Workshop with the Deaf.

He will be remembered as the man who organised the first essay competition for deaf children, sponsored by the Telegraph, and there is a Bob McCullough Cup which is awarded annually by the National Deaf Children’s Society.

He is survived by his wife Evelyn and the family circle.

John Carberry writes: 

I was extremely sad to hear the news of the passing of a local member of the Deaf community, Bob McCullough.

He was heavily involved in the establishment of the Ulster Deaf Sports Council and The Northern Ireland Workshop with the Deaf.

Bob’s heart had always in Deaf Education and he was a great mentor to many Deaf people.

He was the only Deaf person anywhere in the world involved in writing a weekly column. He penned Deaf Talkabout, for the Belfast Telegraph for over 30 years during which he highlighted many issues pertaining to Deaf people. His column was read by both Deaf and hearing people and professionals within Deaf services.

Bob was passionate about promoting the rights of Deaf people and lobbied for better Education throughout his lifetime. He was an inspiration to many of us in the Deaf community.

BDA Chair Terry Riley writes:

Bob dedicated himself to being a steward of the Deaf Community, and his influence can never be underestimated.

Bob always had words of support for everyone, even me when I first came onto the BDA Executive Council and was rather seen as a militant newcomer. Bob with his very firm manner would sit quietly and with a mild tolerance try to steer me in the direction of moderation, acceptance and humility.

Education and English were especially close to Bob’s heart. He took new raw young deaf people under his wing and spent many hours voluntarily teaching them English to a GCSE standard. Bob realised the way to meaningful employment was through bilingualism.

I have fond memories of the many discussions we had about BSL and English. Each of us was immovable but we remained great friends and we respected each others views.

His heart beat strongly for justice, empowerment and equality for the underdog. The BDA rightly recognised his contribution and achievements with the highest award of the Medal of Honour in 2004.

He was a giant amongst men and I am glad to have known him as a special and sincere man.