Gallaudet community mourns mother and daughter killed in Falls Church house fire


Michael and Nanci Knutson, left, and Ann and Locke Burt, right weep at a memorial service on Sunday for Gallaudet faculty member Laura Snyder-Gardner and her daughter Mary Ann Gardner. Nanci and Ann are Laura’s sisters and Mary Ann’s aunts. The mother and daughter died earlier this week in a fire at their Falls Church home. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)
January 27, 2013

Hot pink and yellow — not black — were the colors of choice for Laura Snyder-Gardner and Mary Ann Gardner’s memorial service Sunday.

The colors were bright and positive and radiated energy, exactly how those who loved them remembered the mother and daughter, who died last week in a Falls Church house fire.

Friends, family members and faculty turned into a sea of pink and yellow — Mary Ann’s favorite colors — as they gathered at Gallaudet University in Northeast Washington. They fondly recalled Snyder-Gardner’s generous and nurturing spirit, with many students calling the Gallaudet math professor a “second mom.” And they mourned the loss of Mary Ann’s “radiant smile,” which friends and classmates said was infectious even from afar.

Both were popular and made friends everywhere they went, said Jimmy Gardner, Laura’s son and Mary Ann’s brother.

“They would even talk to strangers,” said Jimmy Gardner, 25, who wore bright yellow pants in their honor.


Laura Snyder Gardner is one of the victims in a fatal house fire in Falls Church Tuesday. (Courtesy of Rocco Leo Gaglioti)

The deaths of the mother, 48, and daughter, 16, a student at the Model Secondary School for the Deaf, have shaken the Washington region’s close-knit deaf community, with hundreds filling an auditorium for their services and thousands more across the country watching a live stream on the Web.

Officials are still investigating the Jan. 23 fire in Falls Church that killed Snyder-Gardner and Mary Ann, though as of Sunday, fire authorities have still only officially identified the mother as a victim.

Jody Gardner said his mother and sister lived full lives, traveling the world, playing sports and giving their time to the deaf community.

“They were deaf, but they were not disabled,” Jody said.

Snyder-Gardner was a teacher at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine for about 20 years before coming in 2009 to Gallaudet, the nation’s only university for the deaf and hard of hearing. Students and colleagues loved her motivational spirit, inspiring many to become teachers themselves.

Gallaudet Provost Stephen F. Weiner said students were often disappointed when they couldn’t get into Snyder-Gardner’s classes because they filled quickly. Students and faculty described her as both an “outstanding math teacher” and “an outstanding human.”

Mari Klassen was one of several students who referred to Snyder-Gardner as her second mom. Even though Klassen is from British Columbia, her professor made her feel as if she were never far from home.

“Laura had a beautiful laugh,” Klassen said. “She vibrated at a high frequency.”

Mary Ann was an active and engaged member of both the Gallaudet community and the Model Secondary School. She was an honors student, a cheerleader, a soccer player and a member of student government.

“There was no way that you could see her and continue to frown,” said Mindi Failing, the model school’s principal.

Ed Bosso, vice president of the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center, said the mother and daughter were sources of light, hope and inspiration for others and will remain so even after passing: “They will be forever part of our community.”

Lynh Bui is a Prince George's County public safety reporter and former Montgomery County education reporter.
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