Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: A Personal Tribute to a Great Mentor

We recently lost one of the big research giants in the field of augmentative and alternative communication: Lyle L. Lloyd. He died at the age of 86 and was a professor in Special Education and Speech and Language Pathology at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, for 34 years.

Lyle Lloyd at work
Llyle Lloyd at work

Lyle Lloyd was a dedicated advocate for the development of the field focused on the premise that each person, regardless of whether they can talk or not, has a right to have access to communication. Communication, he proposed, is the process of understanding and using symbols (both verbal and nonverbal) to enhance interaction between individuals. His research and publications, which were primarily collaborative with students and colleagues, often highlighted the different types and nature of symbols that could be used to supplement speech in deepening our understanding of human interaction. He was an exceptional researcher who provided tireless guidance and input to students and other researchers in an effort to increase the quality of research and training outputs.

One of the most significant international contributions he made to the field of AAC was his investment in helping my colleagues and me to establish and develop the Center for AAC (CAAC) at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. I met Lyle Lloyd in 1978 during his first brief visit to South Africa, and collaborated with him ever since. He supported me as the director of the CAAC and the rest of the team in developing a variety of interdisciplinary training courses in AAC from 1990 to 2008. These courses provided a solid foundation for sustainable and relevant implementation within the African context.

Erna Alant with Lyle Lloyd
Erna Alant with Lyle Lloyd

When it became time for me to hand over the leadership of the CAAC, he was instrumental in guiding me towards accepting a position at Indiana University to enable us to continue our collaboration within a U.S. setting. At Indiana University (between 2008 and 2018) we established the AAC-in-Action project, aimed at enhancing AAC intervention, training, and research in Indiana and beyond. His consistent support in problem-solving challenges and promoting quality research remained a major impetus for the successes of this project.

Reflecting back on Lyle Lloyd and his contributions to my professional life and career, I found myself thinking about the qualities of a great mentor. What were the qualities that he brought to the table as an older, more experienced professional that enabled us to sustain a prolonged relationship for over 40 years? The following three characteristics came to mind:

Respect for different perspectives
Perhaps the easiest answer to the question of why we were able to collaborate for such a prolonged period is simply to say that “we hit it off.” However, this would not necessarily be true. Anyone who knew Lyle Lloyd would know that he could be quite a challenging individual to work with. His dedication to perfection and quality (the term stubbornness comes to mind!) could often give rise to significant interactional challenges in the workplace. However, his willingness to sit down (sometimes after a while!) and work through these difficulties always surprised me. To me, this reflected a deep-seated respect for the perspective of the other. His ability to listen to another’s point of view contributed significantly to his skill in interacting across cultural barriers. He understood the importance of reducing one’s own bias in interacting with others to allow for creative and relevant interpretations of behavior and data. He often cautioned us to “listen well to what the other was saying” to enhance our understanding of the other person’s point of view.

Honesty and integrity in providing feedback
Being open to listen to another does not, however, imply that one does not have an opinion. When asked for his opinion, Lyle would certainly give it. His responses were always characterized by thoughtfulness and honesty in providing guidance. He did not support the notion that “all are entitled to get A’s” as part of their college training experience; however, I never saw him unwilling to assist anyone in improving their work.

I will never forget him commenting on some of my earlier research by stating “it lacks archival work.” This referred to the fact that he thought I had not done enough in-depth research on what has been done in the past to interpret current data. “Standing on the shoulders of giants” for him meant that one needed to do significant delving into previous research (not just the previous five years) to provide a rich context for interpretation. The fact that researchers might have used different terms for similar concepts in the past did not mean their work was irrelevant to current work. Although these interactions could be quite difficult at times, I always appreciated the fact that I was in the company of a serious researcher who was committed to excellence.

Whenever we worked on a document that needed dissemination, Lyle would always ask the question: “Who will we cc this to?” His approach was that we should always copy all people that could have an interest in helping or supporting the improvement of ideas expressed. This generosity in sharing ideas extended to acknowledgements of all who contributed to publications. His awareness of the need to be inclusive in sharing what we did with others was particularly important, as I often tended to send out messages without putting enough thought into who could be meaningful recipients. This level of generosity in sharing and promoting collaboration had a fundamental impact on the success of the collaborative service model we developed within the CAAC.

Finally, over the years, Lyle Lloyd and his late wife Myrna became an integral part of the activities of the CAAC. The picture below is of Lyle and Myrna, together with Prof. Isabel Uys (former head of department of Speech and Language Pathology and Audiology at University of Pretoria) and her husband, Chris, as well as myself and my late husband, Tony Emmett, in our house in Pretoria.

Lyle and Myrna LLoyd in Pretoria

Like many others in the field, I am very grateful for the opportunity to have worked with and learned from Lyle Lloyd. Besides what he taught us, he opened our eyes to critical examination by often asking the question:

Is seeing believing or is believing seeing?

3 Replies to “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: A Personal Tribute to a Great Mentor”

  1. Dear Dr. Alant,

    This is Soojung Chae, from South Korea.
    (Remember me? Dr. Lloyd’s last Ph.D. student from 2007 to 2011)
    I just found out that Dr. Lloyd passed away in Feb.
    What a sad news is…

    He was my great mentor, teacher and leader in my research and study. I have a lot of good memories with him during my Purdue life. He supported me a lot and gave me kindness..

    I want to say THANK YOU DR. LLOYD !!

    I just wanted to share my memories with you
    and thank you for sharing good memories of you and Dr. Lloyd.

    Take care!!

    Best Wishes,
    Soojung Chae

    1. Dear Soojung
      I remember you well. How are you doing? Are you and your family ok with the Corona Virus?
      Thank you for making contact about Dr Lloyd. Yes, he had dementia – so really, it was a relief for him I think. But as you said, still a big loss for us all.
      Keep well – so nice to hear from you!

  2. Nice read, I just passed this onto a friend who was doing some research on that. And he actually bought me lunch as I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thank you for lunch!

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