Sue Thomas (born May 24, 1950) is an American woman who became the first deaf person to work as an undercover specialist doing lip-reading of suspects for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Sue was born on May 24, 1950 in Boardman, Ohio. At the age of 18 months, she became profoundly deaf. The explanation of this phenomenon is not definitely known. At the age of seven, Sue became the youngest Ohio State Champion free-style skater in skating history. Speech therapists helped her develop her voice and she also became an expert lip reader.
As the only deaf child in her public school district, Sue was misunderstood by her teachers. Although she sat in the front row so that she could see the lips of her teachers, much of what happened in the classroom was lost to her. Kids tormented her in the hallways and on the playground. But in spite of her difficulties in classrooms, Thomas graduated from Springfield College in Massachusetts with a degree in Political Science and International Affairs.
Her career in the FBI
After months of job searching, Thomas learned that the FBI was looking for deaf people. Starting out as a fingerprint examiner, she became a lip-reader for an undercover surveillance team after Jack Hogan, an FBI agent, discovered her ability. Thomas spent four years working for the FBI, from 1979 to 1983.
In 1990 Sue Thomas wrote her autobiography entitled Silent Night which became the basis for the TV series to follow. This book begins when she lost her hearing at 18 months and chronicles her life all the way through to her resignation at the FBI.
The continuing story of her life is called Staying In The Race where Sue Thomas shares about living with Multiple Sclerosis.
In 2002, the TV series Sue Thomas: F.B. Eye, created jointly by Dave Alan Johnson and Gary R. Johnson, premiéred on the Pax TV first-run syndication network. Inspired by Thomas's unique job for the FBI, the weekly drama helped to bring more awareness to the lives and abilities of those with physical challenges. The series starred actress Deanne Bray, who is herself deaf, as Thomas and it was loosely based on Sue's real experiences. At its peak, the series was watched by more than 2.5 million viewers in the United States and it was syndicated to 60 nations.
In September 2009, the show began airing on Gospel Music Channel. In October 2009, official Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye DVDs became available. The show's website has information on the DVDs.
In addition to Bray, the cast of Sue Thomas: F.B. Eye included actors Yannick Bisson, Rick Peters, Mark Gomes, Tara Samuel, Ted Atherton and Enuka Okuma. A golden retriever who responded to the name of "Jesse" stood in, during the run of the program, for the real Thomas's golden retriever, who had responded to the name of Levi. Marilyn Stonehouse served as the chief producer for the Pebblehut Productions company, through which Sue Thomas: F.B. Eye was produced.
Multiple sclerosis and public speaking
In 2001, on her way to a speaking engagement in Dallas, Thomas felt a numbness creeping up from her fingers to the top of her head. She managed to deliver her speech to 10,000 people before going to the emergency room. It was diagnosed as multiple sclerosis. Living with MS became one of Sue's greatest challenges. "Fighting it is a waste of precious energy", she said in an online posting to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's web site. "It is only by embracing my MS that I learn life's greatest lessons."
When not on the road speaking, Thomas took up residence in Vermont with her hearing/special-skill dog, whom she trained to respond to the name of "Katie". Knowing first-hand the life-changing impact of these incredible canines, she formed plans to build a dog-training center she called "The Levi Foundation". As of late August 2009, the Levi Foundation was still in its planning stages.