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McMicken To Accept CSHA’s Highest Honor At March 26 Dinner

Published: March 15, 2011

Betty L. McMicken, an assistant professor of Communicative Disorders at CSULB, will receive Honors of the Association from the California Speech and Hearing Association (CSHA) on March 26 during the organization’s annual convention at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.

The Honors of the Association recognizes members for distinguished contributions to the discipline of communication sciences and disorders in the areas of clinical service, teaching, administration, research and community service. McMicken has demonstrated through an outstanding career excellence in all considered areas.

“What sets her clearly apart from most people in the profession – or any profession – is her long standing history of voluntarism and this must be acknowledged,” noted Dee Parker in her letter nominating McMicken for the award. “There are not enough superlatives to fully describe or do justice to the life and work of Dr. Betty McMicken.” Parker serves as the coordinator for Communication Sciences and Disorders Program at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

“This is the highest honor that the California State Speech and Hearing Association bestows,” said McMicken. “In my lifetime it’s been given to giants; people I respect and admire tremendously. It is still hard for me to grasp that I am actually joining such distinguished company.”

Considered an innovator in the field, McMicken has consistently worked as a clinician, been the director of hospital-based and university programs, written numerous research papers, and always taught full- or part-time in speech pathology programs. She co-founded the Newport Language and Speech Center which was the first hospital-based speech pathology service in Orange County and the first private practice to have seminars every year that focused on education, research and treatment.

McMicken also noted that the year in which this honor comes also marks two important milestones in her life – 45 years in the profession and 40 years of sobriety.

“This is a big year for me for many reasons,” said McMicken. “It allows me to celebrate 45 years in the practice of speech pathology, 40 years clean and sober and, of course, now receiving Honors of the Association from the California Speech and Hearing Association. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t of sobered up 40 years ago.”

McMicken is up front about her grandfathers’, on both sides, family history of alcoholism, and her own troubles fueled by her desire to fit in during her 20s.

“I had no tolerance for alcohol and I kept wanting to be social like everyone else and drink, but I would become a person I didn’t even know,” said McMicken. “If you gave me two glasses of wine I would black out. If you gave me one glass of hard liquor I would black out. And when I say black out I mean I wouldn’t remember anything I did and I became a person I did not like at all. I didn’t drink every day, but when I did it was poison. It was absolutely lethal to my brain, my friendships and my behavior. I would be dead if I had not quit.”

That all changed on Aug. 31, 1971, when Elizabeth Wallace, her friend, mentor and business partner in the Newport Language and Speech Center, gave her an ultimatum.

“She said, ‘Either you quit drinking or we quit our business’” remembered McMicken of Wallace, who herself was the recipient of the Honors of the Association Award in 1988. “I had to change and I knew that, but she was really holding my feet to the fire. She and her husband were amazingly stalwart in their support of me. They had already set up a meeting with a sponsor the next morning. It was the biggest blessing of my life. Liz Wallace was the best thing professionally that every happened to me.” And McMicken has been sober every since.

“Forty years of sobriety is a wonderful gift, incredible gift,” said McMicken, who was chair and professor in the Communicative Disorders Department at Cal State Los Angeles before coming to CSULB. “I am just very grateful that 2011 marks 40 years of sobriety and I am still actively involved with people who had drug and alcohol issues, some of them very much like mine.”

Betty McMicken
PHOTO BY VICTORIA SANCHEZ
Betty McMicken

Aside from teaching at CSULB, McMicken’s work takes her to the Los Angeles Mission/Anne Douglas Center, where she regularly works with individuals with drug and alcohol problems. For 22 years, she was a volunteer for the American Cancer Society and ran a group of head and neck cancer patients, the majority of them heavy drinkers, making every get together like an unofficial A.A. meeting.

“We were certainly discussing their communication problems, but it came down to a lot of things that had happened to them because of alcohol over the years,” said McMicken. “It was a wonderful, supportive group and I don’t think I could have been the person that I was without my own alcohol background, my background in the Christian Science faith and deep understanding of the problems.”

McMicken’s personal and professional life came to a relative standstill in 2006 with the suicide of a close friend.

“I’ve never had a such a devastating emotional blow like that to deal with,” said McMicken. “I didn’t think I was ever going to get back on my feet.” Then along came Anne and Kirk Douglas, whom she met at a Christmas dinner. Soon thereafter, she became Kirk’s personal speech therapist, which he needed as the result of his 1996 stroke.

“My meeting of Anne and Kirk Douglas that December and my getting involved with the Los Angeles Mission and the Anne Douglas Center really put me back on my feet,” she said. “So between my work at CSULB, the privilege of helping Kirk each week, and my work at the L.A. Mission/Anne Douglas Center, I have an incredibly busy, full and fascinating life. Everybody says to me that I must have a 36- or 48-hour day. How do you get so many things accomplished? How do you stay interested? I just always answer that I have a never-ending questioning mind. I am so blessed to be in a profession where there are way more questions than answers.

“I love teaching and I love this campus,” she added, “but if I wasn’t here I would be down on Skid Row because that’s really where my heart feels the best. I can be exhausted here and drive up to L.A. and I’m rejuvenated the minute I get there. I wanted to highlight the Los Angeles Mission, the Anne Douglas Center mission and voluntarism because that’s really my message. All of us, regardless of how much we work, we should be volunteering our time and demonstrating the difference we can make.”

McMicken, who couldn’t believe it when she was told about being nominated for Honors of the Association, was extremely grateful for the numerous letters that were sent backing up the nomination.

“They were just extensive and wonderful and much appreciated,” she said. “They were not just from current colleagues, but from people I have worked with all my professional life and from all over the United States. It was so gratifying to have the appreciation and the acknowledgement; it makes me want to do even more.”