Mary Carolyn Dobbs, a California State University, Fresno alumna who became a teacher and internationally renowned pioneer in special education, passed away Jan. 12 in Grass Valley. She was 99.
Ms. Dobbs was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the California State University at Fresno State’s 2004 Commencement. The honorary doctorate recognized her contributions to special education through her advocacy at the state and national levels and her tireless efforts to win teaching and legislative improvements for children with special needs.
It wasn’t easy overcoming prejudices based on stereotyping.
“My career was fraught with vast, intense challenges because of all of the opposition in my work,” Ms. Dobbs said in 2004,. “Handicapped people were looked upon with disdain and scorn, and we had to put forth our best efforts to change that on a global scale. We had much to overcome.”
Her selfless work brought significant changes at the state and national levels in the classroom and in everyday life for students, and she also was an advocate for support and assistance for teachers of special needs pupils.
And she had a fondness for her alma mater, said Dr. Robert Monke, a professor emeritus of counseling and special education. He added that Ms. Dobbs donated her home to endow scholarships for special education teachers-to-be and purchased 25 bricks in the Teachers and Friends of Education Honor Wall at the Kremen School of Education and Human Development.
“She bought three bricks in the wall to honor teachers who inspired her while she was at Fresno State,” Monke said. “Then she kept remembering others she wanted to recognize and she’d send more money.”
One of those Ms. Dobbs honored, he added, was a teacher in Japan. “They came all the way here to see his brick.”
Monke said, “She was a true pioneer in special education, and she helped connect special education teachers so they could talk with one another about how they were teaching their children.” He stayed in touch with her by letter and telephone. His last conversation was two days before she died.
Ms. Dobbs was a native of New York who moved to California for health reasons. She enrolled at Fresno State, receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree and a General Elementary Teaching Credential in 1944 and then taught at Biola Elementary School in Fresno County before becoming a master special education teacher in Berkeley.
She also was a lecturer at the University of North Carolina and at the University of California, which awarded her a Master of Arts and Secondary and Special Education Certificates and a Clinical Psychologist Testing Certificate. Ms. Dobbs became an educational specialist in Grass Valley (1966-76).
She received numerous awards for her work and served for 15 years on the President’s Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped and for 10 years on the Governor’s Committee for Employment of the Handicapped. She consulted on special education throughout the United States and in India, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, West Indies, South Africa and Uganda.
Ms. Dobbs’ influence extended worldwide as an editor and writer in scholarly journals and through The Pointer, which she established in 1952 to chronicle special education news. She served as its editor until 1978.
Ms. Dobbs is remembered each year by Fresno State during presentation of the Dobbs Award established by the Kremen School to honor local special education teachers.