WALNUT CREEK -- Robert Shearer, for whom the Robert Shearer Preschool in Pleasant Hill was named, died June 18 after a brief illness. He was 85.

"This man was instrumental in not only finding funding for and creating a state-of-the art preschool for deaf and hard-of-hearing children -- complete with an audiologist booth and soundproof rooms -- but also building one of the finest school-based special education programs in the nation," said Dena Zachariah, a retired speech therapist recruited by Shearer in the 1970s. "He was really good at getting very innovative people who set up his innovative programs."

Shearer retired in 1986, after working in the Mt. Diablo school district's deaf and hard-of-hearing program for 30 years. In 2009, the district honored him by naming the preschool on the Gregory Gardens Elementary campus the "Robert Shearer Pre-School."

"He was like 30 years ahead of his time," said his wife, Mary, to whom he was married for 59 years. "He was very proud, but he never tooted his own horn."

Shearer pioneered the concept that identifying speech and hearing-impaired children as early as possible gave them the best chance at a good education and fulfilling life, Mary said.

"The whole purpose of his program was to integrate them into the speaking world," she said. "They were living in a speaking world, so they needed to be speaking also."


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Shearer was born in Oakland, and he and his wife had eight children. In 2000, he had a stroke that left him with aphasia, which made it difficult for him to communicate.

Still, he enjoyed playing golf in Rossmoor and spending time with his family, his wife said.

"He was a wonderful husband and a loving father," said Mary Shearer. "He was always upbeat, always positive. And we had a few tragedies. We lost two sons. He would say, 'We're going to get through this.' "

Shearer had many Rossmoor golf buddies who greatly admired him, she said.

"Everybody loved him around here," she said. "They'd come up to me and say, 'I just love Bob Shearer. He just had this sunny disposition. They would also say, 'I wish I had a golf swing like Bob.' He had the most beautiful swing."

Besides his wife, Shearer is survived by sons Tim, Ted and Danny; daughters Marianne Sullivan, Jane Driss and Teresa Taylor; 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

A celebration of Shearer's life will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday at St. Anne's Catholic Church, 1600 Rossmoor Parkway in Walnut Creek. A reception will follow.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Robert Shearer Pre-School, 1 Corritone Court, Pleasant Hill (94523), designated in memory of Bob Shearer.