Things Remembered

about Joseph Sheehan

Most people who knew Joe Sheehan, have special fond memories of him. Below is a place to share those special memories. If you have one you would like to add, please email Judy Kuster

Kay Davis and I both went to summer school at Western Michigan University the summer Joe Sheehan was there for Dr. Van. One of the children that signed up for the summer clinic did not "fit in" and because we were there, both taking other classes, he asked us to do the therapy for this one child. To the day he died, Joe was forever grateful for getting him out of a tight squeeze and never ceased to recognize us at ASHA conventions. The last time I saw Joe Sheehan was in Atlanta. He asked me to go for lunch and the crowd I was with was leaving to drive back home. None of them ever fully realized what I had turned down. I did have dinner with him once in Chicago at ASHA, long before that last time I saw him.

Gretchen Guck Fifer
WMU 1954, University of South Carolina 1979
added April 2, 1999

My name is Gary Sparage. I am 42 years old and a practicing optometrist, living in Stevenson Ranch, CA and was a stutterer from childhood. I knew Dr. Sheehan rather well as an undergraduate psychology student at UCLA,and was fortunate enough to spend some private time in his company. One whole day, in particular, I remember. Dr. Sheehan had a speaking engagement lined up. I drove to his home in W. Los Angeles early one weekday morning, ditched a couple of my classes that day at UCLA, and he and I drove to this hospital together. He had asked me to prepare a little speech of my own describing my own experiences as a stutterer and in stuttering therapy, of which I had a colorful past. I remember his ever-present sense of humor, and his warmth. And for that I sorely miss him. I remember that I prepared a little speech, a chronology of my therapeutic experiences. Upon his introducing me to a room full of mental-health professionals seated around a horse-shoe arrangement of tables, I proceeded to tell my story with (embarrassing) fluency. I was so fluent telling the story that Dr. Sheehan interrupted me and "whispered" to me (just loud enough for everyone in the room to hear), "Would you mind stuttering a bit for these people?" He was absolutely wonderful. And I know that my uncharacteristic and impressive fluency at that little presentation was verification of one of Dr. Sheehan's principles -- that the stripping away of pretense, the being "open" about the problem would tend to minimize the problem and produce relative fluency. How much more "open" could I possibly have been than to be giving a speech to a bunch of mental-health people about my stuttering problem. Dr. Sheehan and I discussed this extensively afterwards. (added September 23, 1999)

Jacqueline Winch is my name. That is how Dr. Sheehan would ask us to begin our speaking in class - our own names are the most feared words there are for us stutterers and so why not jump right in there with the worst? That was his style - tackle your worst fears.

I am now 57 years old. I was a student at UCLA back in the late 1960s in my very early 20s and, as a life-long stutterer, I enrolled in Joseph Sheehan's stuttering class for both stutterers and therapists. The first evening of class I was looking at and listening to all the other stutterers in the room and in a moment of huge denial, I ran out of the room - right into Dr. Sheehan as he was coming in to greet his newest motley group!

He grabbed me by the shoulders, turned me around and marched me right back into the room with all the b-b-b-b-bobbing heads, s-s-s-s-s-s-stomping feet and contorted f-f-f-f-aces and sat me down right in the middle of them, taking my enrollment card, thus thwarting my escape from this looney bin and therefore starting me on my amazing road to finally understanding what was going on inside (and outside) of me and what I could do to help myself cope and function as an equal in the "fluent" world.

Joseph Sheehan as it turned out, it seemed, knew me better than I knew myself and I finished the (sometimes grueling) course knowing that I had been in the company and the fortunate beneficiary of a brilliant, compassionate, remarkable man. I credit Dr. Sheehan with so much more than giving me the tools with which to work on my speech for the rest of my life. His approach helped me to become a stronger person with a reflection in the mirror!

added October 20, 2005

I was a student at UCLA from 1979 to 1984, and attended Dr Sheehan's speech therapy sessions there in the early 80s. I don't remember how I found out about the sessions, but I had no idea at the time that I was with such a renowned expert in the field. I'd seen several speech therapists throughout my childhood, mostly people who worked for small-town school districts. All of them seemed clueless about stuttering, so didn't expect much when I started with Dr Sheehan.

In a nutshell, he changed my life. I was extremely withdrawn in high school and college. Dr Sheehan joked that I had found the perfect solution to stuttering by simply not talking at all. He forced me to talk, once leaving the room with the other therapists and forcing me to "run" the session with about a dozen other stuttering patients.

His technique worked. The stuttering slowly receded, and I eventually became an Air Force Weather Officer, briefing theater-size rooms full of officers. Now I teach weather forecasting for the DOD. I still stutter occasionally, but I never allow it to become the monster that it was when I was young.

Michael R. Beeson,
Meteorologist Instructor, USAF

added May 29, 2009

When I was an undergraduate student in Speech Pathology and Audiology at San Jose State University (1972-74), a professor had made arrangements for me and two other students to travel to UCLA to observe some group stuttering sessions. To our delight, Dr. Sheehan extended an invitation to visit him at his home. How wonderful it was to sit around the fireplace with this amazing scholar and mentor, talking shop intermingled with thoughts about how life worked.

I eventually left the field just prior to starting my doctorate, not from a lack of encouragement from the likes of this great man, but the winds of life sometimes pushes us in mysterious directions. Time has diminished so many memories, but that night with Dr. Sheehan fondly remains.

Robert Bruce Haehnel
Cupertino, California

added April 2, 2011

I owe Joe Sheehan my thanks for making it possible for me to arrange a personal initial visit with Charles Van Riper. I had already improved from Sheehan's therapeutic suggestions.

From Fred Murray (personal correspondence)

added August 21, 2014