William H. Perkins, a professor of speech pathology who was a nationally recognized authority on the speech disorder stuttering, died Oct. 6, as a result of complications from a fall in Baldwin Hills, Calif. He was 85.
Perkins was professor emeritus of speech pathology and otolaryngology in USC's Keck School of Medicine, and speech communication at the Annenberg School for Communication. He was awarded Distinguished Emeritus status in 1991.
"Dr. Perkins was a warm and friendly colleague, and an outstanding departmental citizen," said communication professor Tom Hollihan, who worked with Perkins at USC. "He possessed a quick wit and a great sense of humor."
As director of The Stuttering Center at USC, he oversaw a speech clinic that specialized in the treatment of stuttering, also known as stammering. At the end of his career, Perkins became an outspoken critic of his field, calling into question the conventional understanding of stammering and how it should be treated. "I realized that the road we were on was not leading to an understanding of the fundamental nature of stammering; it was a circular track that was being repaved regularly," he wrote. "I left the paving crew to blaze my own trail in a different direction by following markers of those who stammer."
He went on to advocate a scientific approach that accounted for the subjective experience of the stutterer.
"If science requires objectifying stutterers to the extent of divesting them of their subjective experience because it cannot be measured traditionally by what is readily observed", he said, "then science is the loser."
Born in Kansas City, Mo., in 1923, Perkins often attributed his stubbornness in his quest to solve stuttering to his Missouri roots.
After receiving his B.S. in 1943 from Missouri State College, Perkins enlisted in the Navy and served in World War II as a gunnery officer stationed in the South Pacific. He retired from the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1983 as a lieutenant commander.
Perkins received his M.A. from the University of Missouri in 1949 and his Ph.D. in 1952. He once wrote that he turned to "speech pathology as an employable alternative" to an acting career, which he dabbled in during his college years. It was on the stage that he met his wife, Jill Thompson.
Perkins was a fellow of the American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and a member of the American Psychological Association, Acoustical Society of America, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Association of University Professors, American Cleft Palate Association, and Sigma Xi.
Perkins came to USC in 1952 as an assistant professor, was named an associate professor in 1956, and a professor of communicative disorders in 1960. He received a Dart Outstanding Teaching Award for innovative teaching in 1973.
"Dr. Perkins was known throughout the world for his pioneering research and writings in speech disorders," said J. Wesley Robb, a distinguished emeritus professor of religion who has been a friend and colleague of Perkins since 1955. "He was a model teacher-scholar, and in a sense he was a Renaissance man in that he had an inquisitive mind that went beyond the borders of his own discipline."
Perkins was editor of the Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders from 1977 to 1981. He received the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association's highest honor in 1973.
His books included: Speech Pathology: An Applied Behavioral Science, 1971; Study Guide for Speech Pathology and Review for the National Convention (with Jody Bell), 1977; Human Perspectives in Speech and Language Disorders, 1978; Stuttering Prevented, 1992; Stuttering and Science, 1996, and Tongue Wars: Recovery from Stammering, 2000.
In addition to his own publications, Perkins was a regular contributor to the Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders and Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, both published by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and the Journal of Behavioral Research and Therapy.
His edited volumes included: (with Jerry L. Northern) Strategies in Stuttering Therapy, 1980; General Principles of Therapy, 1982; Language Handicaps in Adults, 1983; Phonologic-Articulatory Disorders, 1983; Voice Disorders, 1983; Hearing Disorders, Thieme-Stratton, 1984; (with Richard F. Curlee) Nature and Treatment of Stuttering: New Directions, 1984, (with Raymond D. Kent) Functional Anatomy of Speech, Language, and Hearing: A Primer, College-Hill Press, 1986, (editor with Jane Fraser) Do You Stutter: A Guide for Teens, Speech Foundation of America, 1987.
After retiring in 1988, Perkins devoted his career to solving what he called "the unsolvable problem of stammering." It was his controversial book, Tongue Wars: Recovery from Stammering, that challenged the profession to reconsider long-held orthodoxy.
In 1999, Perkins presented the USC Emeriti Center's annual Borchard Lecture, which exemplifies a lifetime of scholarly production. Perkins' lecture was titled, "Why Apes Can't Stutter: the 1 1/2% Solution."
During his tenure at USC, Perkins participated in FBS, an informal discussion group with faculty members of diverse backgrounds. "The thing that was intriguing about Dr. Perkins was his broad intellectual interest," Robb said. Discussions focused on a range of topics from art and music to philosophy to religion to political science. "It was in that context that we became close friends and colleagues."
He is survived by his wife, Jill and sons, Scott, Kyle, Christopher, and his daughter-in-law Denise. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Alzheimer's research.
Anyone wishing to add a remembrance of Dr. Perkins, please send it to Judy Kuster