February 9, 2004
Morning Journal News
Her story has become the basis of a weekly television show on PAX, Sue Thomas F.B. Eye, but on Sunday night speaking before the Columbiana Area Chamber of Commerce, Thomas called Columbiana her refuge.
Since the television show based on her three-and-a-half year career as a lip-reader with the FBI first premiered, Thomas said more and more people have learned about her life.
While most articles about her in the past identified Thomas as living between Youngstown and Pittsburgh, this month’s Family Circle article placed her right in Columbiana. Along with that have come the telephone calls.
“This town is my haven,” she said to chamber members. “My refuge to come home to.”
Since people have learned more about her life, Thomas said three questions always arise.
Are you the real Sue Thomas? How long did you work for the FBI? Did you really run down the street catching bad guys?
The third she answers with “Do I look like I ran down the street catching bad guys?”
A job with the FBI was far from Thomas’ only success in life. But she credits her successes to god and to the people who walked with her throughout her life.
She credits her parents that taught her a belief in God and a love of music. Although she could not hear the music, singing songs like “Silent Night” – also the title of her best selling book – helped her get through the toughest times as a child.
She talks about the woman at the Youngstown Hearing and Speech Center, who taught her to talk.
Thomas said her self-esteem came with the help of the roller skating coach, who helped her learn to skate choreographed routines to music, by helping her see the beat by his movements from the wings. She was the Ohio State freestyle champion at age 7, the youngest champion at the time.
But her grades were not good. In first grade her teacher had moved her to the front of the class so she could easily read her lips. But the teacher would ask the question and then say “good” and ask the next question. Thomas did not realize the children behind her were answering the questions, so she was not seeing the answers.
By the third grade, Thomas was in the class designated for “dummies.”
Yet her junior year, a typing teacher realized Thomas was not dumb. She was typing at 120 words a minute and getting faster.
The teacher asked her what she wanted to do and Thomas, who had mostly D’s and F’s in school responded she wanted to go to college because she wanted to be like everybody else.
“That day that little old lady almost fell off her typewriter,” Thomas said, adding she believed in her and helped her get there.
After eight years, Thomas left with a double major in international affairs and political science. But there was no job waiting for her. She began to realize no one would hire her, because she could not answer the telephone.
The Youngstown Hearing and Speech Center finally hired her, according to Thomas, out of pity. She did odd jobs their until the friend of a friend of a friend of a friend there at the center knew of a job with the FBI with fingerprint classification.
Thomas took the job in Washington D.C., but soon thought she had made a mistake. Counting the lines was a tedious thing to do eight hours a day.
She thought they were going to fire her, when she was called to the front office. There eight men in suits began to question her about her lip-reading ability.
It seemed they had videotape of a suspect, but the sound mechanism on the tape recorder had failed. They asked Thomas to watch the tape and see if she could tell any of the words. She never returned to fingerprints again.
Now living with her mother in Columbiana, Thomas is working to give back for many of the blessings in her life.
“I’ve realized in the past two years with the television show that much has been given,” Thomas said. “For those whom much has been given, much is required. It is time to give back.”
She was apart of a movement to get laws changed in one state to allow service dogs in public places. She holds the Canine Classic each year, a golf tournament that helps raise money for service dogs and service dog legislation.
She is currently working to build a training center for dogs, especially dual dogs which help their owners with more than one disability.
Thomas now has multiple sclerosis, which means her next dog will need to not only be able to help her with the hearing world, but with the other challenges that she might soon face. However, dogs with dual training are not available here in the United States, according to Thomas.
She plans to build such a place right here in Columbiana. However, she told members of the chamber she is not seeking large donations for her training facility. She believes that if everyone person who watches her television show, reads Family Circle and hears her speak donates a $1, she will be able to build the training center.
Chris Davis introduced Thomas, talking about the woman’s success and her positive attitude.
“Sue’s enthusiam is contagious,” Davis said. “She can talk me into just
Copyright © 2004, Morning Journal News