Jay B. McSpaden, PhD, died early Saturday morning, March 31, in his hometown of Lebanon, Ore, after a long illness. He was 79.
Dr McSpaden has had a profound influence on the field of audiology and hearing instrument sciences for the past four decades. A prolific writer, he published over 100 papers in The Hearing Review and other journals throughout his career, with topics ranging from basic tympanometry to patient histories to best practices, many of which have become staples in college curricula and training courses. He served as an editorial advisory board (EAB) member of The Hearing Review since the EAB’s inception, and was a vocal and valuable resource for this and other magazines. A highly sought-after lecturer, his presentations at national, regional, and state conventions often drew standing-room-only crowds due to his practicality and candor, great story telling, and often-blunt commentary. And although he did not suffer fools gladly, he will probably be best remembered for his kindness, caring, and self-deprecating humor. Many in the field consider him a mentor.
Born in 1939 to Harold Lee “Jug” and Eva Mae Frisbee in Malden, Mass, Jay came into the world as the son of one of the most accomplished golfers of the 1930s and 40s. Byron Nelson and Jay’s father, Jug McSpaden, were known as the “Gold Dust Twins” for their propensity to finish first and second in tournaments, with Jug winning 17 PGA tournaments including a record run of 31 top-10 finishes in 1945. Jay’s middle name was Byron, in honor of his godfather, and he came to understand at an early age the steadfast dedication and attention to detail required for someone to be truly “world class.” Recounting how his father would endlessly hit buckets of balls with the “club of the day” into a net on their porch during the winter or at a large towel strewn on a field during the summer, Jay would sonorously recall his father’s words: “It’s not practice that makes perfect, but perfect practice that makes perfect.”
Although he might have followed his father into golf, Jay injured his back in a parachuting exercise during his service in the US Marines Corp during the Vietnam Era, effectively ending any hope of a golf career. However, this was to the great benefit of many people, because it ultimately brought him into the relatively young field of audiology.
After graduating from Mount Angel College in 1967, McSpaden accepted a grant from the Teacher Preparation Program for Teachers of the Deaf and got hooked on hearing healthcare and the questions surrounding audition and hearing loss. He then entered the VA trainee program in Seattle, graduating from the University of Washington in 1971. In the spring of that same year, he accepted a position with the VA hospital in Houston where he saw patients for 4 days a week and worked with audiology research legend James Jerger, PhD, in Dr Jerger’s lab one day a week—which Jay said was the luckiest thing that ever happened to him in his career. McSpaden wrote in the July 2016 HR, “Jim insisted that anyone who worked in the lab with him document everything so we could always go back and find the antecedent for any outcomes or behaviors we observed. He also taught us how to listen actively to the patient. That sounds like a small thing until you practice doing it.”
“Both Susan and I were saddened by the news that Jay had passed,” wrote Dr Jerger to HR. “He was an inspired audiologist, a prolific contributor to the literature, and a friend to all who were privileged to know and to work with him. He will be greatly missed.”
By the spring of 1976, McSpaden had been promoted to Chief of Audiology and Speech Pathology at the hospital. Fearful of working in a job that largely entailed what he saw as “pushing paper,” he abruptly quit and began working with another audiology legend, Hayes Newby, PhD, teaching courses at the University of Maryland. He would later assist Native Americans with hearing loss at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, then go on to establish his own private practice in Lebanon, Ore. In the late 1970s, he began writing hearing-related articles for his friend, Marjorie Skafte, editor of Hearing Instruments magazine, and would usually publish several influential articles each year, and this continued until last year.
Dr McSpaden was also very involved in organizations like the International Institute for Hearing Instrument Studies (IIHIS), with a focus on developing educational and training materials for hearing care professionals. “Jay was passionate about education and was always ahead of the curve,” said Kathy Harvey-Jones, MEd, BC-HIS, who often worked with McSpaden at IIHIS and on other projects. “His mind was a wonderful maze, each thought opening up so many new paths to new thoughts. I loved his generous nature and his loyalty to our profession and the individuals we serve. Jay often contributed articles to our professional journals. He loved sharing his thoughts and knowledge, and he worked diligently on committees within IHS and taught many seminars at our international conventions and state/province meetings. Jay was so passionate and inspired passion in others. He will be sorely missed. I will miss him. I see his smiling face as I write this. I will feel his influence forever.”
McSpaden was also a fervent advocate for the professions of audiology and hearing aid specialists finding more common ground and working together, with the goal of providing better hearing care for larger numbers of people.
Dr McSpaden leaves behind his wife, Corlene and his daughter Dana (both of whom are audiologists and speech language pathologists), his sons Sean and Harold Anthony, and 6 grandchildren. A service will be held at a later date. Condolences may be sent to Corlene McSpaden, PO Box 1043, Jefferson, OR 97352. Memorial donations may be sent to the Benedictine Sisters at Mt Angel, Ore, or Dornbecker’s Children’s Hospital.