Obituary: Tom Ferguson

tom ferguson
Tom Ferguson (far left)

Many have been deeply saddened by the news of the death of Tom Ferguson on the 7 August 2015.  Our thoughts and sympathy go to his loved ones.

Tom was born in 1930 into a family of Deaf siblings. Tom was an avid supporter of Deaf people in Northern Ireland, an important figure in setting up the Deaf Self-Help Society and also a great support in helping to launch Northern Ireland Deaf Youth Association (NIDYA) 27 years ago.

At a time when Northern Ireland was facing many difficulties, financially and also due to the religious conflicts, Tom sought to put these difficulties aside and focus on the needs of the Deaf community.  Deaf people were lonely and isolated, but through Tom’s tireless work and fundraising he launched support programmes for Deaf people to boost confidence, independence and opportunities to socialise.

Tom was involved in projects such as; travel being provided to Deaf people who were isolated, ensuring they could meet up with old and new friends, and support being provided for new equipment (e.g. the first mobiles) to be made available, along with help in learning how to use the equipment.

Thanks to Tom, who helped with fundraising activities, NIYDA was launched. Again this allowed youngsters to meet up socially, participate in activities and learning opportunities, all of which helped to improve well-being amongst the Deaf youth.

Tom was very passionate in supporting other Deaf organisations and groups and would ensure they were sponsored with money raised to help the groups develop.

Before the BDA’s conference in Belfast in 1990, Tom looked into the history of one of the founding members of BDDA, Francis Maginn, a Deaf gentleman from Ireland. Francis Maginn attended Gallaudet College in America but returned to Ireland when his father became ill.  During his time in Gallaudet, he became aware that there was no organisation supporting the needs of Deaf people in Britain and so travelled around meeting people who could help him to establish the BDDA. With this historical connection to the BDA, Tom and Hugh Darragh (a Deaf history researcher) looked to see if they could find out where Francis Maginn was buried in Belfast. They found the graveyard, but no headstone. Tom then worked with the BDA and Ulster Institute for the Deaf to raise funds and purchase a new headstone for Francis Maginn – this was 100 years on from the establishment of BDDA.

On behalf of Northern Ireland Deaf Youth Association and the founding members: David Quinn, Ken Taylor, Paul Smith, Sandra Sproule, William Dewart, Stephen Cree, Joe McDowell, Malachy McBurney, Bernie McCaffrey and Colette McMahon, we would like to acknowledge Tom’s good work and express our thanks for all he did.

We are very sad to lose him and he will be missed by all.

– Noel Traynor and Malachy McBurney, DSHS Ex-Committee members