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Hearing a Call: An Interview With Sue Thomas

Thomas’ remarkable story has inspired a new TV show, “Sue Thomas: F.B.EYE,” on PAX TV.

Operations and treatments failed to restore her hearing, so she learned how to sign, speak and read lips. As a result of her multiple skills, she became more than a “bridge” between the hearing and non-hearing worlds.
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She became an FBI agent—one who read lips in surveillance situations. Thomas’ remarkable story has inspired a new TV show, “Sue Thomas: F.B.EYE,” on PAX TV.
 
Thomas, now a professional speaker, recently spoke with EthicsDaily<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />.com by e-mail about the show, her life and her faith.
 
“It’s been over 12 years since the interest began with making my story into a movie,” Thomas said. First, Columbia Pictures bought the movie rights and held the option for one year. Then, a production company in the Netherlands bought the movie rights and held the option for three years. That company could not gather the funds for the picture, but it had hired brothers Dave and Gary Johnson to write the screenplay. 
 
“It would be over seven years before the Johnsons would be able to bring this to a network for a television series,” Thomas, a consultant on the show, said. “I am forever grateful that the Johnsons never forgot the story nor the desire to make it into a production.” 
 
Billed as a “coming-of-age, suspenseful drama,” the show stars severely deaf actress Deanne Bray as Thomas.
 
“Deanne and I have discussed character at great lengths,” Thomas said. “She continually asks me questions and wants to portray me to the detail. I have grown to love Deanne as a little sister.”
 
The show will follow Thomas’ character and her hearing dog, Levi, as they get swept up in the action of working for the FBI.
 
Most people aren’t aware of “hearing dogs” for the deaf, but they exist and hold the same legal rights as “seeing dogs.”
 
Hearing dogs “are highly trained dogs that break the sound barriers in life for the deaf and the hard of hearing,” Thomas said. “Dogs are trained by physical contact to alert a deaf person to such sounds as doorbells, knocking on the door, smoke alarms, alarm clocks, phones ringing, oven timer, baby crying, name calling, just to mention a few.”
 
And the sound barriers are breaking.
 
Deaf and hard of hearing people “are capable of doing everything that the hearing world does,” Thomas said. “The only limitations that we face are those that society imposes on us.”
 
Thomas broke barriers at an early age. For example, she loved to skate and learned to do so to music by watching her coach, who tapped in time to the beat. When she was 7 years old, she became the Ohio state champion in free-style skating.
 
That sort of success, along with encouragement from her parents, inspired Thomas to lifelong excellence. She enrolled at SpringfieldCollege in Springfield, Mass., and in 1976 graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science and international relations. She also pursued graduate work at CaseWestern ReserveUniversity in Cleveland.
 
The FBI later hired her, first to help train deaf people to classify fingerprints. But her life soon took an even more interesting turn when agents approached her with a problem.
 
The sound recording device had failed during a videotaped surveillance operation, and agents were unable to get the information they needed. They asked Thomas if she could read lips and tell them what the people on tape were saying.
 
She could and did.
 
Thomas’ work on the case led to an assignment in surveillance—the basis for the new show, which creators Dave and Gary Johnson promise will feature exciting FBI cases based on recent events. It will also highlight the inspirational qualities Thomas brought to her work.
 
After a career with the FBI, Thomas felt called to something else. She enrolled at the Columbia Graduate School of Bible and Missions in Columbia, S.C., where she prepared to take the message of God’s love to all who would listen.
 
She’s been doing just that for almost 20 years and now views the show as another avenue to spread her sustaining faith.
 
“Without the firm guiding hand of faith I would have fallen by the wayside,” Thomas said. “My parents instilled in me as a child, that as long as I kept my hand in God’s and allow Him to lead me and guide me, there wouldn’t be anything that I couldn’t do or anything that I couldn’t become.” 
 
Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s associate director.
 
The two-hour premiere of “Sue Thomas: F.B.EYE” is Sunday, Oct. 13 at 8:00 p.m. CT on PAX TV. The regularly one-hour show will air on Sunday nights at 8:00 p.m. CT.
 
Read more about “Sue Thomas: F.B.EYE.”