Texana Faulk Conn, an advocate for Texas' deaf and disabled community, died of natural causes in her sleep Friday. She was 90. Conn was the youngest sister of Austinite John Henry Faulk, the entertainer and free-speech advocate.
Born in 1915, Conn nurtured an early interest in sign language through a childhood friend and through her family's contact with Judge Homer Thornberry's parents, who taught at the State School for the Deaf, said Liz Faulk, 70, Conn's sister-in-law.
For several decades, Conn worked as a local and state pioneer in providing services for people who are deaf, her friends and relatives say. She was the sole interpreter for deaf people picked up by the Austin Police Department, Faulk said. She also worked as a teacher at the Texas School for the Deaf and as a volunteer with deaf patients at the Austin State Hospital.
"She was a gentle person who cared about all kinds of people," said state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, who met Conn in the 1970s when he was a community organizer for the National Urban League.
Barrientos said he worked with Conn on legislation connected to the Texas School for the Deaf and issues affecting the deaf community.
"She also had a passion for acting on these issues, not just talking about them," he said.
Conn was known for being unrelenting in her advocacy for people who are hearing impaired, relatives say. In the late 1960s, she became such a fixture at former Judge Mike Renfro's office that he created an office for her in his lobby, a friend of Conn's said.
Lynnette Fant, who has been an interpreter for people who are deaf for 29 years, met Conn there. Fant remembered that Conn called everyone "honey," and was "determined to get what she wanted for the good of others."
Conn, with friend Ray Vaughn, later co-founded a halfway house for deaf people with multiple handicaps; the Vaughn House opened in 1970.
In 1974, then-Travis County Commissioner Ann Richards helped Conn establish the Travis County Services for the Deaf, an agency that provides interpreters, referral services and job-skills training. As governor, Richards appointed Conn chairwoman of the Texas Commission for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired.
Conn was active in other causes well into her 80s, when her health began to decline. Before then, she aided political campaigns by phone, her relatives said, and spearheaded the drive to get paved streets and sidewalks built around Zilker Elementary School in South Austin.
In 2000, the school's Outdoor Learning Center was dedicated to her.
Conn is survived by three daughters — Nancy Conn Etter, Texana Conn Kowis Curd and Mary Patricia Chin. A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. today at Barr Mansion.
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