In memoriam: Dr. James McNutt (1935 – 2021)

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Source: School of Communication Sciences and Disorders

It is with great sadness that we share the news of the passing of Dr. James McNutt, Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at McGill University, who dedicated his career to advancing knowledge and treatment of childhood speech disorders.

Dr. McNutt completed his Bachelor of Science at the State University of Pennsylvania, his master’s of education in Speech Pathology/Audiology at Pennsylvania State University and his doctoral degree in Speech Pathology/Audiology at Kent State University.  He arrived at the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders (then called the School of Human Communication Disorders) at McGill in 1976 following a position at Syracuse University.  He was one of our university’s first two tenure track professors in Speech-Language Pathology.  Between 1979 and 1988 he was administratively responsible for the Speech/Language Pathology section of the School.  In a review of the Speech/Language Pathology program in 1985 an external reviewer stated that it was “one of the best programs in Canada and likely North America.” Over the years, before retiring in 2001, Dr. McNutt took active steps to ensure the program grew and thrived. In fact, he arranged a key telephone call to the then Minister of Education, Claude Ryan, to secure the budget for a specially-funded set of four faculty positions in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology at McGill. These positions provided necessary and exciting growth for the School during what were otherwise lean years at McGill.

Dr. McNutt was dedicated to his students in the Master’s (Applied) program and supervised 31 research projects for those students, many of whom have fond memories of his accessible and caring ways.  One, who is now an Associate Dean (Research) at Western University, remembered that he helped launch her career in the field by taking the time to meet with her when she was a grade 9 student to discuss careers in Speech-Language Pathology.  He was in many ways the heart of the department who played a jovial Santa Claus at holiday time and arranged ice fishing events for hardy students each winter.

 

A number of Dr. McNutt’s joint research projects with students and colleagues helped to provide a basis for understanding of childhood speech disorders in French-speaking children of Quebec.  Furthermore, he provided diagnostic and intervention consultation services to English School Boards in rural Quebec.  This work provided scores of children with help that they might not otherwise have been able to obtain.  In doing so, he also provided education to teachers in rural schools and coaching to parents of children struggling with speech and language difficulties. It was his time spent driving the back roads of Claude Ryan’s rural riding of Argenteuil that gave him the idea to arrange for someone in the School to speak to the Honorable Mr. Ryan. He quite simply copied down the telephone number of his riding office while he was on the road driving to a small school in that part of the province.

In 1991, James McNutt was elected as a Fellow of the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association, the premiere professional body in the world.

We extend our heartfelt condolences to Dr. McNutt’s partner, Shelley Conture, and to his children and their partners, to his grandchildren, as well as to his other family members, his friends, and former colleagues and all those whose lives he touched.  He will be greatly missed.

 

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