90-year-old woman identified as victim in fatal D.C. accident

December 19, 2013 in Community News

By Peter Hermann and Victoria St. Martin, The Washington Post (last updated: Thursday, December 19, 2:42 PM) E-mail the writer

Frances Margaret Parsons was a well-known fixture at the Town Square Towers in Southwest Washington, where she lived for the past two decades and walked her feisty miniature brown pinscher, her constant companion.

The 90-year-old retired professor from Gallaudet University and prolific author spent a lifetime finding betters ways to educate the hearing impaired. She was with her dog Wednesday afternoon when D.C. police say she was struck and killed by a black 2013 Porsche Cayenne whose driver was exiting the condominium complex’s underground parking garage.

D.C. police are investigating the accident and have not filed any charges. The sudden death has thrust residents of the block-long building in the 700 block of 7th Street SW into mourning, wondering what Parsons was doing on the ramp and whether the driver, who residents said just recently moved in, might have gotten confused with the layout.

Relatives of Parsons could not be reached, though the condo manager, Barbara Barton, said her twin sister Hester Parsons was flying to the District from California on Thursday. “She was a legend in the deaf community,” said one of her former students Kathleen Brockway, 43, who lives in Maryland and last saw Parsons just before this Thanksgiving rummaging around the archives at Gallaudet.

Bartson said she last spoke to Parsons, known as “Peggie,” on Tuesday, after she dropped a gift bag at her door with a small bottle of apple cider, a bag of cookies and hot chocolate mix. Barton said residents were setting up for the building Christmas party when someone rushed in and said Parsons had been struck by a vehicle a few minutes after 3 p.m. She was pronounced dead at an area hospital later that evening.

“She was very fragile,” Barton said, explaining she walked often to help shore up an deteriorating hip. She had lived in the building, which has 285 condos, for the past 20 years.

For many years, she never went out without her dog. Barton described the pet as a guide dog, though others said it more a companion. But Barton said it fiercely guarded its owner. “They were very close,” she said. “If you got too close to her, that dog would be yapping.”

Barton said Parsons could speak a few words, but mostly used sign language, such as when she thanked her for the gift bag. She made many public appearances over the course of her life, and her books are listed over the Internet and used by deaf groups across the world. After a speech to the Northern Virginia Association for the Deaf, the group posted numbers pictures of her posing with her dog and her published works. She showed slideshows on sign language spreading from Paris to the rest of the world.

According to her biolgraphy published by Gallaudet University, she attended that school, as well as the University of Maryland, Georgetown, Howard and George Washington universities. She holds a masters in art history from the University of Maryland and has travelled to every continent, including Antartica, which she visited at the age of 83, and served in the Peace Corps.

Gallaudet, the country’s leading university for the deaf, has her collection of letters, lectures, books, manuscripts and notes filling 27 boxes and amounting to 23,000 pages, spanning the years from the Great Depression when as a child she filled journals though 2006. She taught at Gallaudet for 20 years, retiring in 1993, and served as the school’s coordinator of International History Collections. She has two daughters, and took a break from studies to raise them.

Parsons studied and taught art history, archaeology and sculpture, and lectured on how to better communicate with deaf children. One of her best known books was published in 1989 titled, “I didn’t hear the dragon roar,” and recounts her travels through China.

Several residents of Parsons’ apartment building were too upset to talk. Others said her dog had to be calmed after the accidnet, and that residents learned she had died while at the holiday party.


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