Home > Announcement > John Tracy (Gally, Class of ’66) passed away

John Tracy (Gally, Class of ’66) passed away

June 17, 2007

John Tracy, 82; deaf son of actor Spencer Tracy, clinic namesake

By Valerie J. Nelson, Times Staff Writer
June 17, 2007

John Tracy

John Tracy

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John Tracy, the deaf son of actor Spencer Tracy who inspired his parents to establish the pioneering John Tracy Clinic in Los Angeles to help young hearing-impaired children and their families, has died. He was 82.

Tracy died Friday night at his son’s ranch in Acton, where he had lived for the past five years, said his sister, Susie Tracy. The cause of death was not specified.

He was 17 when his mother, Louise Treadwell Tracy, first spoke publicly about rearing a deaf child. The speech at USC led her to found the clinic in a campus bungalow in 1942, and she helped build the nonprofit into a leading institution for deaf education. For the first few years, Spencer Tracy was the clinic’s sole support.

“As a child, John Tracy couldn’t have known that he would be the inspiration of a whole movement to give new hope to parents of children with hearing loss,” Barbara F. Hecht, president of the clinic, told The Times.

The clinic was among the first to start a hearing-impaired child’s training in infancy and make parental education a critical component. It has helped an estimated 245,000 parents and children.

It tries to educate “deaf children through their mothers and fathers, who otherwise would not know what to do with them…. I hoped it would help a great deal,” John Tracy wrote in 1946 in the Volta Review, the journal of the Alexander Graham Bell Assn. for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

The story, written when he was 22, was headlined “My Complicated Life.”

John Ten Broeck Tracy was born June 26, 1924, in Milwaukee to two actors who married between a matinee and evening performance.

When Tracy was 10 months old, his mother became alarmed when a door that accidentally slammed shut failed to wake him.

“I stopped suddenly…. I stood motionless beside his crib. I called his name again — and then I shouted it. He slept on. And so I discovered our baby was deaf,” she said years later.

Afraid to tell anyone, even her husband, she consulted several doctors who told her that her son had “nerve damage, cause unknown.” They also said he would never talk.

The Tracys refused to accept doctors’ advice to “wait — in a few years he’ll be old enough for a state school,” a reference to deaf education that would start when he was 6.

“We went right on talking to Johnny, singing to him, telling him nursery rhymes, and as it turned out, that was just the right thing to do,” Louise once said, according to a 1983 Times story.

He once told of a time when he was 3 or 4 and his mother took a break from chattering to him. He remembered “leaning my face forward closer to hers and saying, ‘Talk!’ That was my first word,” Tracy told the Daily News of Los Angeles in 2003.

Through his mother’s perseverance and as many as 3,000 repetitions of one word, Tracy learned to speak and read lips, Ladies’ Home Journal reported in 1972.

Despite a bout with polio at 6 that left him with a weakened leg, Tracy began riding horses at 9 and competed in Riviera Country Club riding contests, he wrote in Volta. He also became a dedicated polo and tennis player.

With his father’s acting career taking off, the family put down roots in 1936 on an eight-acre ranch in Encino, where they lived for 19 years.

At 14, Tracy began writing stories and drawing cartoons for a newsletter delivered to family and friends that he published for years on a printing press in his bedroom.

A film buff, he often got an assist from his father, who would give him a script “so John could read it and get more out of the movie,” said Susie, his younger sister.

Although Tracy had been mainly home-schooled by tutors, he went to Pasadena City College, and his father spoke at his graduation.

After attending what is now the California Institute of the Arts, Tracy worked for several years in the art props department at Walt Disney Studios; Disney was a close family friend. Tracy stopped working when his eyesight started to fail in the late 1950s.

Well into adulthood, he learned that his deafness was due to Usher syndrome, a genetic disease that was also to blame for his fading vision. By the early 1990s, he was legally blind from retinitis pigmentosa.

In 1953, he married Nadine Carr, a neighbor with whom he used to ride horses.

They had a son, Joseph Spencer Tracy, before divorcing in 1957.

By then, his family had moved to Holmby Hills and added a room next to Tracy’s bedroom to house his collections, which included art books, comics and scrapbooks that documented world events.

A year before his mother died in 1983, Tracy moved to a Santa Monica retirement home, then later to Acton. His father died in 1967.

When asked whether he had a message for the hearing-impaired children who attend the clinic that bears his name, Tracy told the Daily News in 2003 that “I want to let the kids know they can live a full life. Sports, schools, hobbies, interests, dating, marriage, have a family, drive a car — all of it.”

In addition to his sister, Susie, and his son, Joseph, who is an artist, Tracy is survived by three grandchildren.

Services are pending. Memorial donations may be made to the John Tracy Clinic, 806 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, 90007. Details: http://www.jtc.org .

Categories: Announcement
  1. Annoymous
    June 17, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    Oh no 😦 Rest in Peace

  2. Sonia Hartmann
    June 17, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    I am very sad to know about the loss of John Tracy.
    When we found out that our daughter was deaf we took advantage of the free correspondence course provided by John Tracy Clinic for 4 years! Later we also found out that she has Usher’s Syndrome. We take this opportunity to thank Mrs. Tracy for starting such a service for families of children with hearing loss, and deafblindness.
    John, you coming to this workd was inspiring!

  3. June 17, 2007 at 5:49 pm

    Rest in Peace, John Tracy-

    BTW, I think it may have been the mother, Louise Tracy, who got a honorary degree at Gallaudet in 1966. [Source: Wikipedia)

  4. June 18, 2007 at 9:51 pm

    He will be missed!

  5. Patti McGowan
    June 20, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    I will always be thankful to the John Tracy Clinic and the correspondence courses. When I first learned that my son at that time only 3 years of age had Usher Syndrome Type II, I was in shock and knew nothing. The clinic became such a strong resource for me, my son and family. Eight years later, I find myself working in the field of deafblindness. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and thanks again for giving me the strenght and the education about deafblindness.

  6. M
    June 20, 2007 at 6:41 pm

    My mom used the John Tracy Clinic when I was very small. It was invaluable as my mom learned how important it was for me to have a good education. AND I think the board of directors should NOT remove the name of “John Tracey” from the clinic name. Should leave it alone. Why don’t we fight to keep the name!

  7. June 20, 2007 at 6:52 pm

    You may want to fix the headline as Conny Vinny stated the error.

  8. M
    June 21, 2007 at 5:36 am

    Fookem and Bug were right about John Tracy entering Gallaudet in the fall of 1961. He was in the Class of 1966, but left in late November. He had some problems with his disabilities like polio in his leg, failing vision, and not knowing ASL well. God bless him.

  9. June 21, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    If he entered in 1961, that would make him a member of the Class of 1965, not 1966.

  10. M
    June 21, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    I understand it would take six years going from Preparatory Class to Senior Class. Therefore, it would be Class of 1966 in John Spencer’s case. Right, Kevin?? What’s more, he was not listed in any Gally directory because his stay was only three months, not long enough to meet the requirement to make the class list.
    1961-62 1962-63 1963-64
    1964-65 1965-66

  11. June 22, 2007 at 4:02 am

    Preparatory Class? What’s that? I know many went to Gallaudet for four years and graduated.

    John Tracy was born in 1924. That would make him 37 years old in 1961. Besides he already graduated from Pasadena City College.

  12. M
    June 22, 2007 at 4:25 am

    Yep, many students entered the Preparatory “Prep” Class because they needed a year to work on weak areas before entering the college program.

    I am not sure when the “Prep” program began, but I do know it was discontinued sometime in the 1990’s.

    I myself skipped the Prep year, thanks to my having a good high school education. Some had to enter the “Prep” year while others did not have to.

    Yep, John Spencer was in his late 30’s when he entered Gally. He was classified as a “special student” whatever it was. I suspect John wanted to go see and experience Gally. Too bad his stay there was short-lived.

    It does not matter how old one is or what kind of education one has to enter Gally.

  13. June 22, 2007 at 9:25 am

    Oh okay, thanks for clearing it up. Although I still feel that the headine should read as John Tracy, a one-time Gallaudet student…..

  14. Barbara
    June 23, 2007 at 6:28 pm

    As president of John Tracy Clinic, I thank you for your kind words of sympathy. John Tracy was a wonderful man and he will be truly missed. In response to M’s comment on June 20, we are very proud of our name and of John Tracy, our namesake. There are no plans whatsoever to change our name.

    In response to Cousin Vinny’s comment on June 17, John’s mother, Louise Tracy, was deeply honored to have been awarded an honorary doctorate from Gallaudet University in 1966.

    Barbara Hecht, President, John Tracy Clinic

  15. Not Important
    June 28, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    The services for John Tracy are as follows:

    The funeral service will be held on Saturday, June 30, 11:00 to 1:00 p.m. at Forest Lawn in Glendale location, Hall of the Crucifixion-Resurrection (on the grounds).

    Come and show your respect to this wonderfaul family and extraordinary individual.

  16. Anonymous
    October 22, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    Burt, another article.

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