Tim Murrell (1990)

Disclaimer: The following was transcribed from an article in the Capper Foundation Archives published by The Topeka Capital-Journal. The choice of words used at the time this was written may not reflect current Capper Foundation inclusive language and views.

Tim Murrell (1990)

by Jan Landon

A monotonous, computerized voice flowed through the hushed crowd, allowing a man who had lost his ability to talk to share his thoughts and feelings.

Spoken without intonation or emotion, the rigid voice wove together a bittersweet and optimistic message from Tim Murrell.

Murrell communicated through his computer Sunday afternoon at the dedication of the T.M. Murrell Assistive Technology Center at the Capper Foundation.

“Speech, not just the ability to talk, but the voice inflections, the accompanying facial expressions, the body language, all make up this quality we have come to call charisma, personality and real expression of the thought process,” Murrell said. “A smile, a grin, a pout … the twitching of a nose, a nod or a shake of the head and eye movements are the stuff of eloquence.

“Those who have experienced a loss of these means of expression find that it is the nature of human nature for otherwise well-meaning and sympathetic people to unconsciously distance themselves from the person who has suffered the loss.

“The Assistive Technology Center of the Capper Outreach Program, and its dedicated staff, are making the difference and the opportunities are indeed bright for the ones so disadvantaged.”

Murrell, chairman emeritus of the Topeka-based AmVestors Financial Corporation and American Investors Life Insurance Co., was diagnosed in 1985 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a crippling muscular and nerve disorder.

“The road is not rougher,” Murrell said, “it is just on a different plane, and coping is just a matter of adapting.”

Although ALS has destroyed Murrell’s ability to talk and put him in a wheelchair, he still goes to his office each afternoon. He has been a major benefactor to the center.

The assistive technology center, housed in a former Capper residential unit on the foundation’s grounds, includes among its services adaptive equipment and communication-helping devices.

The center was described as the keystone of the foundation’s new outreach program, which has served more than 300 handicapped people throughout Kansas since its beginning in 1988.

The center also houses Capper’s Special Projects, targeted at the use of adaptive equipment, as well as providing training resources, rehabilitation engineering support and the repair of items used by disabled people.”

The building’s remodeling for the center was completed in the spring. Murrell used an Epson RealVoice computer to speak with the crowd of about 150 people.

“It is a supreme honor to my family and me to have your assistive technology headquarters dedicated in my name,” he said. “To have the name Murrell associated with your lofty humanitarian mission is recognition beyond any material ambitions and other achievements.”

After the ceremony, people gathered around Murrell, and he carried on conversations using his computer.

With a press of a button, a “Hi how are you” or a personal question would come from the computer.

The dedication also included opening comments from Edward F. Gibbons, president of the Capper Foundation, and a brief presentation by Fletcher Bell, Kansas Insurance Commissioner. Bell said Sunday’s dedication reminded people of the opportunities for the future and represented a triumph of the human spirit.

“Tim Murrell has given the greatest gifts,” he said, “hope and opportunity.”