I saw Robert R. Davila just once, in 1993 when he briefly worked as a consultant to the National Captioning Institute. I sat at a desk in the hallway as Davila walked past. At the time, I was in awe of the man because I had heard that he had been the highest-ranked deaf person in the Federal government.
Reading Davila's Biography
After reading the biography Moments of Truth: Robert R. Davila, The Story of a Deaf Leader, I have discovered much, much more to be in awe of regarding Davila. Moments of Truth tells Davila's story, from birth through losing his hearing at age 11, and continuing through his numerous achievements to his appointment as the ninth president of Gallaudet University. Along the way, he dealt with barriers created by both deafness and his Mexican heritage.
Dr. Davila in a Nutshell
Davila was born in California to a poor migrant family. His life of poverty did not begin to change until he became deaf and started attending the California School for the Deaf (CSD). Before he started at CSD, he had not had much education. Now, as a deaf student at CSD, he had a chance to better his lot in life.
He did much more than just better his lot in life. He received a doctorate from Syracuse University in Educational Technology and Curriculum Development, and became one of the most accomplished, respected professionals in deaf education. As Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) in the Department of Education, Davila pushed through a critical policy guidance clarifying what "least restrictive environment" meant for deaf children. He also accomplished something few can claim: leadership of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, New York and Gallaudet University. That alone amazes me even more than the high level government position he had held.
Really Good Book
Moments of Truth
is an honest, readable book that I truly enjoyed reading. Davila's youthful escapades are included, such as the time he broke into a candy machine at Gallaudet College to get funds to cover school supplies. Many personal vignettes are included, and most illustrate Davila's personal values. One of the few negatives about the book is that it includes a couple of personal vignettes that didn't really need to be included. However, the book is so well written that all the vignettes are either pleasurable or insightful.
Davila could not have accomplished as much as he did - an appendix has more than three pages of his selected honors and awards -- without the unwavering support of his wife, Donna. While Davila chased his dream of being a deaf education professional, Donna had most of the responsibility for raising their children. In one harrowing vignette, both Donna and Davila nearly lost their lives in a car accident.
Another plus of the book is the way it seamlessly interweaves Davila's life with many of the people who are part of deaf heritage. I also liked how the book shone a spotlight on all of Davila's achievements but also pointed out his character flaws. Not everyone appreciated his management style. Interview snippets from other people give us a still clearer idea of Davila's character.
My only serious complaint about this book is that it was published too soon! As the book was in production, Davila became president of Gallaudet University. Therefore, the book only touches on his Gallaudet presidency in the Afterword. I hope that they will publish a revised second edition that goes into detail on his Gallaudet presidency.
I'm giving this book a recommendation I don't often give: Buy it!