Skip to content Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf & Hard of Hearing Persons
DECEMBER 28, 2014
by Becky Sullivan

Before turning the page on 2014, All Things Considered is paying tribute to some of the people who died this year whose stories you may not have heard — including Marion Downs.i

For more than 30 years, Marion Downs pushed for newborns to be screened for hearing loss soon after birth.

Marion Downs Center

As recently as the early 1990s, if you were born deaf, nobody would know for years. Parents were left to realize that something was amiss when their toddlers were not learning to talk or communicate at a normal pace. A diagnosis that late meant many deaf children never fully developed the ability to use language.

Today, things are drastically different for hard-of-hearing children, thanks to the efforts of a remarkable woman: Marion Downs.

It was just chance that Downs ended up as an audiologist. In the 1930s, she dropped out of college to marry and have children. When her children were old enough to spend their days in school, she wrapped up her bachelor's degree and headed to the University of Denver to register for graduate school.

Read More . . .or download transcript



By Joanne Davidson
The Denver Post

In 1963, when Marion Downs was working as an audiologist at a new otolaryngology clinic in what was then the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, she created an infant hearing screening program that has since been adopted by hospitals nationwide.

Today, 96 percent of all babies born in the U.S. are tested within hours of their birth, and those with impairments can be fitted with hearing aids during their first few weeks of life. This helps avoid the speech and language development problems associated with childhood hearing loss.

Downs also trained peers throughout the world in pediatric audiology, authored numerous articles and books, and lectured extensively. The  Marion Downs Center  continues her pioneering work.

But it's her spunk that people will remember.  Downs died of natural causes Nov. 13 in Dana Point, Calif. She was 100.

"Heaven can wait!" she exclaimed  in 2011 when she accepted the prestigious Bonfils-Stanton Award for Science and Medicine. And on Jan. 26,  when she celebrated her 100th birthday at a gala headlined by Donny Osmond.

Jerry Northern, her friend and colleague of 40 years, ended his tribute by recalling one of Downs' favorite lines: "Live for today, plan for tomorrow, but let's party tonight!"

Marion Pfaender Downs was born Jan. 26, 1914, in New Ulm, Minn. She received degrees in political science and English from the University of Minnesota, a master's degree in audiology from the University of Denver, and honorary doctorates from the University of Colorado, University of Northern Colorado and University of Arizona School of Health Sciences. In 2006, she was inducted into the  Colorado Women's Hall of Fame. The nearly 100 articles and books she has published cover various aspects of audiology — and the pre-eminent textbook "Hearing in Children," which she wrote with Northern, has been translated into several foreign languages.

Read More  . . .