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Monday, June 18, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Lou Fant heard the deaf with his heart

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Lou Fant, who could speak and hear like most of us, dedicated his life to the deaf.

In that pursuit, he made a large impact.

Mr. Fant was a teacher, author and expert on sign language. From 1989 until last year, he was the lead instructor for Seattle Central Community College's renowned sign-language interpreter program.

One of his students, Brad Cerenzia, remembers Mr. Fant as a "compassionate, caring and graceful" teacher. "He would always give you feedback, straight-forward, honest feedback."

Mr. Fant was involved with American Sign Language (ASL) most of his life, Cerenzia said. "He's helped thousands of people in his lifetime," Cerenzia added.

Mr. Fant also was a movie, TV and stage actor. From 1974 to 1980 he appeared on TV as Ace Hardware's "helpful hardware man."

Mr. Fant died last Monday at the University of Washington Medical Center of complications from pulmonary fibrosis. He was 69.

Advocacy for the deaf was the center of his life.

Both of his parents were deaf, and he learned ASL from them as he grew up in Greenville, S.C.

After graduating from Baylor University, he earned a master's degree in special education from Teachers College, Columbia University.

He started his teaching career at the New York School for the Deaf, then went to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. While there, he served for a time as a consultant on the deaf for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

In 1967, Mr. Fant helped establish the National Theater for the Deaf in Connecticut.

Mr. Fant was a prolific author on deaf topics. He published nine books, four articles and contributed to eight films for ASL in order to advance use of sign language.

Last year, Mr. Fant received the outstanding-contribution award from the local Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.

In 1980, the National Center on Deafness at California State University presented him with its Daniel T. Cloud Leadership Award, and in 1972 the National Registry of Interpreters of the Deaf honored him with its Distinguished Service Award.

He appeared in more than 30 movies and television productions. Among those were roles as a preacher on "General Hospital," a doctor on "Highway to Heaven," and a preacher and the father of a deaf boy in several "Little House on the Prairie" segments.

Mr. Fant was a sign-language coach for some well-known actors, including Henry Winkler, Diane Keaton, Robert Young and Melissa Gilbert.

When his acting career diminished in the late 1980s, Mr. Fant and his wife, Barbara, decided to move from California, settling in Lake Forest Park. Mr. Fant subsequently took the position at Seattle Central Community College.

Besides his wife, Mr. Fant is survived by four children.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.

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