Samuel & Barbara Ray Holcomb

Samuel and Barbara Ray Holcomb stand outside in front of palm trees on a sunny day. Sam (SVP ’74, ’77) and Barbara Ray (SVP ’71, ’74, ’84) Holcomb have been selected as recipients of the 2017 NTID Distinguished Alumni Award. They are only the second couple to be selected for the award, which recognizes alumni who have brought distinction to the institution through their professional, community and philanthropic activities.

For virtually anyone who has worked with them since their arrival on campus in the mid-1970s, their selection comes as no surprise; the Holcombs have made their names, both individually and together, as tireless advocates for relationship-building, both on campus and elsewhere. 

“We’ve always enjoyed giving back to the community that’s supported us,” says Barbara Ray, a graduate of NTID’s associate program in medical records technology. She also earned a bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Brockport in interdisciplinary arts for children and a master’s degree from RIT in 1984 in career and human resources development. She has held various instructional positions at RIT, NTID, and other area colleges since 1979.

Her most recent position was as an associate professor and the coordinator of the Faculty/Staff Sign Language Program in the American Sign Language and Interpreting Education Department.

Sam, a 1977 graduate of NTID’s ophthalmic optical finishing technology program, is also well known for building bridges. When RIT President Albert J. Simone entered office in 1992, he became the first president of RIT to regularly use ASL in his remarks at commencement and other campus-wide events, thanks to Sam’s tutelage.

The Holcombs are co-authors of ASL at Work, a teacher manual and student text intended to teach effective communication in the classroom and the workplace. They also have individually authored various books, films and curricular materials devoted to surmounting language barriers.

Sam and Barbara Ray retired from NTID in 2013 after 36 and 39 years of service, respectively. That doesn’t mean they’ve stopped teaching, however.

Now living in Surprise, Arizona, they are active in their retirement community, which contains a high number of deaf senior citizens.

“We have weekly gatherings where I share information about resources and host workshops,” says Sam. “Barbara also shares information about communication or assistive devices, like where to get voice carry-over phones and flashing lights for doorbells and fire alarms. Many of our neighbors are hungry to learn new things through sign language, and since [Barbara Ray and I] come from a technical institution, we’re ahead of the game in many ways.”

“We also educate them about their rights,” adds Barbara Ray. “Some of our deaf neighbors have spent years keeping quiet about their need for communication access, so we teach them how to request an interpreter and other things that they’re entitled to by law.”

Although Sam and Barbara Ray have left Rochester, they still feel a strong connection to NTID as well as a need to provide future generations with a sense of connection to the past. The Holcombs’ advocacy helped spur the establishment of the Deaf Studies Archive at RIT’s Wallace Memorial Center, and both are currently working towards the development of an NTID Alumni Museum. The museum is slated to open during the 50th Anniversary Reunion Weekend, which will take place June 28-July 1, 2018.

The Holcombs will be recognized during the Distinguished Alumni Award ceremony during the President’s Alumni Ball on October 13, 2017.

In keeping with Sam’s reputed deep knowledge of NTID history, which he employs to great effect in developing trivia questions for NTID’s FOCUS Magazine, here are some trivia questions about the Holcombs.


Q: How many RIT leaders have learned sign language from Sam Holcomb?

A: Three: Two presidents (Albert Simone and William Destler) and one provost (Stanley McKenzie), along with many other members of the RIT administration.


Q: What long-running NTID group did Barbara Ray first join when it was established in 1978?

A: Sunshine & Co., a traveling theater troupe that visited organizations and schools for the deaf all over the country. This group later evolved into Sunshine Too, and is now known as Sunshine 2.0.


Q: How many of Sam and Barbara Ray’s children are RIT/NTID alumni?

A: Both of them. Amy Holcomb and her brother Mark both earned their bachelor’s degrees and their Master of Science degrees in Secondary Education (MSSE); both currently teach at the Texas School for the Deaf.


Q: What are the Holcombs’ favorite hobbies?

A: Sam and Barbara Ray enjoy playing bocce and various card games, and creating stained-glass art pieces. The Holcombs also enjoy traveling; Sam has visited every single U.S. state except Alaska, and has driven across the United States more than 10 times.