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Cynthia Bartlett, Professor Emerita, Was Beacon to Students, Faculty

Professor Emerita Cynthia Bartlett, who molded and inspired hundreds of Emerson students and supported so many colleagues in the Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) Department, died Wednesday, July 13, in Greenwood, Indiana, following a long illness. She was 71.

“She was completely dedicated to her craft,” said Timothy Edgar, until this summer the graduate program director of Emerson’s Health Communication program, now a professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, and one Dr. Bartlett’s closest friends.

“She loved her students. She never had children of her own, and what I think gave her such incredible joy in life was knowing she had trained an entire generation, if not generations, of…[students] in the program.”

In 1985, Bartlett joined the faculty of Emerson College, where she taught courses in aphasia and cognitive communication disorders. For 18 of her 26 years at Emerson, she was the CSD Department’s graduate program director and served as interim chair of the department twice. She retired in 2011 and was granted emerita status at that year’s Commencement ceremony.

She was an American Speech and Hearing Association delegate to the Sino-American Conference on Brain Injury in Beijing, The Boston Globe reported in an obituary.

Professor Emeritus Dan Kempler, who retired as chair of the CSD Department in the spring, said not only did Bartlett give personal attention to every student, but she also fostered an “open-door” policy within the department, making a point to be present for every student and colleague who needed her.

“[CSD] really operated as a close-knit family, and she was integral to that, by her presence, her warmth, and her willingness to serve, [which] really created a productive environment for everyone,” Kempler said.

Sandy Cohn Thau, CSD graduate program director, started at Emerson three months before Bartlett and worked closely with her for the next 26 years.

“She was absolutely adored by students as a teacher, but in her capacity as graduate program director, she always amazed me with the little things she would remember about people,” Thau said. They would be talking about a particular student and out of the blue, Bartlett would throw out a detail about a student—she was a dancer, or she was from Nebraska—that no one else knew or remembered.

She also was a sharp dresser, Thau said. Years ago, students did a skit about Bartlett and the “100,000 ways she knew how to tie a scarf.” But that was the outer Cindy, Thau said.

On the inside, she was warm and caring and influenced so many students through her love of working with people who had aphasia and brain injury.

“She steered a lot of people in that direction because she was such a compelling teacher,” Thau said.

Prior to joining the Emerson faculty, Bartlett worked in the field of stroke rehabilitation at Rochester (New York) General Hospital, before earning her doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh in 1982 and becoming an assistant scientist at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago, according to the Globe.

Bartlett was born in Bloomington, Indiana, and graduated from Indiana University with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in speech-language pathology, with a specialty in aphasia.

Edgar, the Tufts professor and former Emerson faculty, knew her more as a friend than as a colleague.

“She was incredibly smart,” Edgar said. “She was extraordinarily funny, with a very wicked, biting sense of humor.”

She loved “tremendous beauty,” Edgar said, whether it was in her meticulous clothing or the latest art exhibit at the museums and galleries.

He and Bartlett had season tickets to the Boston Ballet, which would alternate between traditional productions such as Swan Lake and more modern pieces, Edgar said. Bartlett was a traditionalist; she would go to the contemporary ballet happily, but she found them a challenge.

“She turned to me [after a modern piece] and said, ‘I really need a swan,’” Edgar recalled.

But of all the beautiful things she admired, Edgar said, perhaps the most apt was her love of lighthouses.

“One of her favorite things about living in New England was lighthouses,” he said. “She loved the simple beauty of a lighthouse sitting on a rocky coast, and I think what she loved about a lighthouse was it was a beacon to lead people to safety.

“And that’s what she did,” Edgar said.

Dr. Bartlett is survived by two sisters: Sally Gerber and Susan Kensill, both of Greenwood; five nieces; one nephew; and an aunt, according to the obituary.

A memorial visitation will be held Monday, July 18, in Bloomington. For more information, visit

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