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In Memoriam - Mark Ylvisaker, PhD



A memorial service was held on August 15, 2009, at Touhey Forum in the Lally School of Education at the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York. 


Mark Ylvisaker, PhD, died on Saturday, May 23, 2009. He was a longtime Professor of Communication Sciences at the College of Saint Rose, teaching courses in Communication Disorders. As a member of the faculty at St. Rose, Mark was popular with students and staff alike and was, in many ways, the heart of the Department of Communication Sciences.

Dr. Ylvisaker began his professional life as a philosopher, eventually changing his career path and becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist, completing his Ph.D. in Communication Disorders at the University of Pittsburgh. Mark’s background in philosophy affected his practice as a clinician and teacher, and he became widely known for his critical thinking and his insightful approaches to supporting individuals with disability.

Over the course of his 35 year career, Mark gained worldwide distinction for his ground-breaking approaches to brain injury rehabilitation and his clinical work with children and adolescents with disabilities, assisting programs in all 50 states and over 15 countries in the development of innovative services. He was known and respected throughout the world for his boundless optimism and his passionate commitment to his work, to the people he supported, and for his unique ability to help individuals with disabilities, families, and professionals overcome barriers and achieve success in life.

While his professional skills were extraordinary, Mark’s warm personality and positive outlook often had the greatest impact on others; as a result, he became a valued friend and colleague to many throughout the world.

Mark authored over 100 professional publications, including six books, related to brain injury, autism, and neurogenic disabilities and served on the editorial boards of six journals. He was the recipient of many awards for his life’s work, including, most recently, a Distinguished Achievement Award from the Brain Injury Association of America and the prestigious Frank R. Keffner National Lifetime Clinical Career Award from the American Speech Language and Hearing Foundation. While Mark appreciated his many professional accolades, his greatest source of professional joy was his day-to-day work with children, adolescents, and adults with disabilities. His tireless dedication to the well-being of others and the power of his positive personality helped change untold lives for the better. To know him was to love him.

His obituary is too short, but I hope it captures who he was in a small way. We're all bereft.

Tim Feeney

Posted Tributes

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I was so sorry to learn of Mark’s passing. He fought the good fight for many years. My relationship with Mark went way back to our early days (the 70’s) in Pittsburgh, when he was a buck Speech Therapist at the Rehab Institute and I was doing community work at UCP. We were both working on our post-graduate degrees and shared a lot of our academic ups and downs. Mark was so focused and confident, one of the most intelligent people I had ever met. This loss cuts deep in our field. May he rest in peace and may the perpetual light shine upon him.

– Al Condeluci

It is fitting to put Mark in the same league as Sheldon, Mitch, David and Randy except Mark was even more accessible. He was a giant and yet he never put himself above anyone else. He always listened to the issues of empowerment and did not dimiss them because he worked with children. He understood that a child who is living with a brain injury needs even more to be empowerd. Robert is right, all we can do is to live our lives in tribute. Though he knew me as a patient, when I overcame that, he never held me to that role. A force that cannot be understated. He built my confidence and supported me whether we agreed or not. Goodbye for now my friend, and thank you for everything. Kathryn, Ben and Jessica, there are no words but know our love goes out to you.

– Andrea Williams Gentry

Although I did not have the honor of meeting Dr. Ylvisaker in person, his work in the field of speech-language pathology was inspiration to continue my work in the area of brain injury rehab. He became my voice of reason when so often others in my field seemed not to be concerned with working beyond speech deficits and aphasia. Thank you Dr. Ylvisaker. My thoughts and blessings to his family and many, many friends.

– Betsy Johnson, MA, CCC-SLP

My deepest sympathies to Mark Ylvisaker's family, friends and colleagues. I am saddened and most affected by this news: even though we knew this was coming, we could never be prepared for such a great loss. Our office is covered with articles from Dr. Ylvisaker - his binders, his research, his template forms surround me every day. We have taken the liberty over the years to make many of his expressions become our own, and to translate so much of his information into worksheets and templates that we use on a daily basis in our practice. There's no limit to the gratitude that we feel for having been a part of this great man's life. For sure, the things he has taught us will continue on.

– Beverlee C. Melamed B.Sc OT (Reg) Ont

I am so very sad to learn of Mark's death and I send my most sincere condolences to Mark's family, colleagues and all the many children whose lives he changed for the better. And, along the way, he did not keep his insights private but shared them willing with those of us in the pediatric brain injury field. We met at annual meetings of the Brain Injury Association - a new advocacy group (it was so lovely to see Marilyn Spivak's tribute) to Mark because she was also there the beginning.

I am grateful to Mark for his insight, evaluation and therapy ideas, outrageous sense of humor and unwavering commitment to children with brain injuries and their families. Thank you Mark. Through all of us, touched by Mark, his legacy lives on.

– Carole Sellars

He changed my whole approach to assessing and treating persons with an acquired brain injury. What an amazing person and therapist!! What a loss!!

– Cheryl Hartridge

I had the distinct pleasure of working with Mark for several years, and we have maintained a collegial friendship for many more. I just heard the news of his passing and am deeply saddened. Mark has always been extremely dedicated to both his work and his family. He has been a bright star in professional work for children and others with brain injury for many years. He also was very proud of his family and their accomplishments. We are all diminished by his passing, but I also will cherish and remember fondly the times that we had together. My condolences go out to Kathryn, Ben, and Jessica.

– David Tupper

I send my deepest condolences to Dr. Ylvisaker’s, family and close friends. He was a very talented and extraordinary man who helped to advance the practice of my craft and expand my beliefs about treating patients with brain injury. He expanded the practice of others' professions and changed my work environment for the better. Those of us who knew him are further along on our journey for excellence and caring because of him.

– Elizabeth M. Salva, MPH, OTR/L, CPST

I first met Mark just before he finished his PhD at the University of Pittsburgh. I clearly remember when he called to tell me he had successfully completed his dissertation. The next time I saw him I sat for a few hours asking question after question about his dissertation defense. He was so patient with my questions, as I clearly remember he was from then on with everyone I observed him with over the next 25 years. He was a friend and was there for me when, more than 10 years later, I was ready for my own dissertation defense. His ethics were unsurpassed in our field and he did not compromise his beliefs.

Last month I called Mark and got to talk with him for nearly an hour. Ever the philosopher we spoke about legacy, ethics and family. Instead of focusing on is own battle, he asked about me and my family. He did not ask in a superficial way, he truly wanted to know. It was a wonderful conversation and will be etched in my memory forever.

Mark's legacy lives on in all of us. May he rest in peace.

– Janet Williams

As most of you probably know, Mark felt that it was important for children to associate with a hero that they could look up to. I consider myself very fortunate to have had the privilege of having Mark as a consultant in my classroom for a child with a TBI. When I met with the little boy to try and establish who his hero was, this is what he came up with: "My hero is Dr. Mark Ylvisaker. He is helpful and a good friend. He has helped me to be good to people and to be a great learner. Dr. Mark taught me how to ask for help when I need it. I am more ready to start my day because of the help he game me and my family at home. He is a good friend because he is kind to me, my friends and my family. Dr. Mark Ylvisaker is my HERO because he is a SUPERSTAR!"

– Joey age 10

Mark Ylvisaker passed away after a long and courageous battle with cancer. He made many contributions to the field of brain injury rehabilitation, particularly with children. He was the visionary behind LEARNet, and his creativity contributed significantly to this innovative resource, as well as many others. He has been a leader in the field for more than 30 years. I understand that a memorial celebration of Mark’s life will be held in August.

– Judith I. Avner, Esq.

I was so saddened to hear of Dr. Mark Ylvisaker’s death. He was my professor at the College of St. Rose in 2002, where I completed the graduate program in Communication Sciences and Disorders. I was in total awe of the depth of Mark’s knowledge and caring for children and adults with acquired brain injury. His creative delivery of lectures through the use of videos that depicted personal accounts of people and families living with the affects of ABI really brought home the idea of person-centered and family-centered therapy. Mark also openly shared his deep love for his family, and his pride in all of their accomplishments. My favourite videos, in fact, were those that showed his toddler-aged son at the time, Ben, developing language skills. Since graduating from the program, I have occasionally picked Mark’s brain about assessment and therapy ideas, as I came back home to Toronto to work as a speech pathologist with young clients with ABI. He graciously treated me like a colleague, not as a former student, and would always reassure me of my skill set. I have frequently integrated his project-based approach into therapy, as have my colleagues. Most recently, I got to see him in action last Fall in Toronto, when he generously hosted two days of discussion on the topic of ABI, for Bloorview Kids Rehab staff, and for OSLA. Mark was witty, engaging, and genuinely interested in the nature of my work and my colleagues’ work, and willingly shared cutting-edge ideas for improvements. Mark, you made a difference.

– Lisa Kakonge-Clayton, M.Sc. Ed, Reg. CASLPO (S) Speech-Language Pathologist, CCC-SLP Brain Injury Rehab Team (B.I.R.T.) - Outpatient

My condolences to Mark's family and of course to all you who knew, admired and loved him. I was just speaking of him to a clinician recently and suggested that she look to him as one of leading pioneers and experts in brain injury rehabilitation as it relates to children and adolescents as well as adults. Although I have not seen Mark in years, I can still see him clearly and hear his gentle but strong voice that articulated and made simple the art of communication and compassion. Mark was a true listener and therefore a wonderful teacher and clinician. His eyes were often smiling at whomever he was speaking with. I felt that way! Back in the 1980s, when the NHIF was building all its task forces and subcommittees and councils, I asked Mark to participate on those that focused on Pediatrics and Special Ed with Roberta and Ron, he gladly agreed. He never said NO in all the times we asked him to present at our annual conferences or workshops. He assisted in any way he could and at anytime to build a strong advocacy organization and to expand and support professional education and training. I know he did so much for the New York state association in the early days of building and advocating. Mark's passing was too soon. Yes, we have suffered losses too soon but our TBI heroes, Shelly Berrol, Mitch Rosenthal, David Strauss, Randy Evans, and Doug Harrington, cannot be forgotten and neither will Mark by those he touched and those he still will influence and teach through his many publications and by those he taught and mentored.

– Marilyn Spivack

I was and still am a student of Dr. Ylvisaker. His ideas form the philosophical backbone of my work with Kansan’s with TBI and with their everyday communication partners. In this limited space I could not hope to name all he taught us. Just one example is the OCCH-TA or Ongoing Collaborative Contextualized Hypothesis-Testing Assessment. This tool has helped me to resolve what seem to be the most tenacious problems through a collaborative team effort. It is ingeniously designed to instill harmony amongst all the team members. I am grateful that he took the time to teach so many of us and I hold tightly onto his writings.

– Mark Gridley M.S. in Ed. CCC-SLP

My deepest sympathy to Dr. Ylvisaker's family and the Faculty/Staff of the College of Saint Rose. He was the best!

– Mary Hynes-Drumm,CCC-SLP

I just now learned of Mark’s death. While I did not know Mark well, he has been my role model for the treatment of Brain Injury for many years. I am sure that the entire ‘TBI Community’ who studied Mark’s work feels a personal loss, even if one only knew of him. I am in the process of completing ‘Everyday Routines’ for CEUs and I feel I will always hold that video close to my heart. My first experience with brain injury was with a child who had had Mark as a therapist at the Rehab Institute in PGH. I called him and I still remember how kind he was on the phone. My husband is also ill with cancer and Mark and I corresponded a few times about the subject, as I had asked him to speak at our state convention (PA). He had to decline because he couldn’t plan that far in advance. Mark’s contributions to Speech Pathology will always be held in the highest regards.

– Nannette Crawford SLP, Erie PA

Thank you Mark for being one of the trailblazers who helped light the torch of knowledge about traumatic brain injury. You provided to many people and audiences world wide the tools and framework for creating techniques and solutions for successful rehabilitation and community integration. But most of all, thank you for all your thoughtful advice, wisdom, support and kindness. Your contribution to the field is immeasurable. Your assistance to the Brain Injury Association of New York State as our advisory board member made us successful. You were a good friend and I shall miss you greatly. It was my pleasure to have known and worked with you. Rest peacefully dear friend.

– Pam Burns

The passing of Mark Ylvisaker is indeed very sad news --- Mark was a compassionate man and a champion for all people --- with or without brain injury. As fate would have things, the following address touching on matters that concern us all was delivered on the very same day as Mark's passing. I think it presents a discussion Mark would have enjoyed, and embraced --- please take a look and see whether you agree:

"Fins '82 Delivers Phi Beta Kappa Address" --- "Minding Time" --- at Wesleyan University --- May 23, 2009

– Ralph William Shields

Our mentors our leaders our friends die untimely deaths- untimely because we want them in our lives forever- they made our path easier and rewarding. Sheldon. Mitch. Randy. Mark among others - we have to re dedicate our lives to the betterment of the people we serve in honor of these great men.

– Robert Voogt

As a young educator new to the field of pediatric TBI in 1991, I was fortunate enough to attend a week long training run by Mark. Little did I know how he would forever change my career path and allow me to delve into the world of Pediatric TBI where I am still working today. Mark’s work was obviously a labor of love. Each time I heard him speak and teach, his passion was obvious, and it was contagious. He changed the lives of so many of the individuals with TBI that he touched, and certainly the lives of those of us who try to walk in his shadow. Mark threw a “pebble” into the pond and created a ripple that allows so many of us in the field to learn from and try to carry on his work. I am forever grateful for the trails he has blazed in the field, for the volumes of writings he has left us, for his divergent thinking and problem solving to address the needs of these individuals. I learn something new each time I open one of his books, and ultimately I find yet another way to try to change the lives of the children I work with as he did.

– Sharon Grandinette

I was saddened first to hear of Mark's illness and now his passing. Mark was the first positive experience for our family and my son after his accident in 1989. I was honored to know him over the past 20 years. Mark was always responsive and willing to help and give us guidance! The field of TBI will miss him, and so will the many families and persons with TBI whose lives he has touched. Peace and Love, Dr. Y.

– Sheila Bradwell

Mark Ylvisaker left a tremendous and memorable impression on so many people in his life and work. I had the privilege of working in a rehabilitation program under his exceptional leadership 20 years ago as a recent college graduate, and his teaching and guidance influenced my decision to continue to work with individuals with brain injury. I often think about the lessons he provided all those years ago in my current practice, with much gratitude and appreciation. I just found out that he passed away and wish his family my sincere condolences.

– Stephanie Wingate-Gardner, PhD

I chose to specialize in brain injury rehabilitation after hearing Mark speak in the UK five years ago. He revolutionized my thinking and has guided and shaped my practice ever since. I am so grateful to him for generously and tirelessly teaching and sharing his vision with clinicians across the world. His legacy is immense, and every day the lives of people with brain injuries are changed as a result of his clear thinking and inspirational approach in how to serve them best.

– Susan Howell

Mark embodied not only what we do in the service of those with ABI, but how we do it and where we do it. He was the father of functional, meaningful rehabilitation with children. I am lucky to have called him a friend. I will miss him.

– Terry Renker MS CCC-SLP Director, Harbor Rehabilitation

Mark was an remarkable man who lived his life by changing the world one person or project at a time. He gave his undivided attention to each colleague or client who requested it. His respect for others set him apart from many others. His humor was only surpassed by his keen intellect and powers of observation. His ability to meet daily life challenges and hold his own was extraordinary. His generosity in sharing his ideas, compassion, humor and appreciation for life will be missed.

– Wendy B. Marlowe, PhD, ABPP-CN

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