Gerald Adler, a Gallaudet College professor, and his wife had returned to Washington Wednesday night from a Christmas trip to Atlanta to see their daughter and her family.

Edna Adler took the elevator to their sixth-floor apartment in a fashionable building in Southwest Washington, while her husband parked the car in the basement garage.

As he unloaded Christmas presents and packages from the trunk of his car, Adler was shot once in the head by the robber.

The robber escaped with about $20. Adler, who was deaf, was found dead by the side of his car. Police speculate that Adler's deafness may have led to his murder. They theroize that the robber may have shot him when he did not respond to the robber's demand for money. Adler's neighbors in the quiet, high rise apartment complex at 560 N St. SW, expressed shock yesterday about the shooting. The apartment building has tight security measures, but the underground parking garage can be entered from the outside. Adler's body was found by an apartment maintenance man, who rushed into the garage about 10:10 p.m., after he heard a shot. Yesterday, relatives and friends grieved about the death of the 66-year-old mathematics professor. "The loss of Gerald Adler is broad and deep, affecting the students whom he loved, his many professional colleagues and a host of friends," said Edward C. Merrill Jr., president of Gallaudet College. "How such a quiet, effective man could experience such a violent death is a tragic commentary on our times and our country." "He was a very fine person," said Mervin Garretson, Merrill's special assistant. "He seemed to be very quiet and unassuming.He liked to read, to travel, to play chess and to play bridge. In a way, he was just an ordinary man." Adler's son Michael said his father and mother had just returned from an 11-day trip to Florida and Atlanta. They had stopped in Atlanta to see their daughter Karen for the Christmas holidays. "He was very gentle," Adler said, sitting in the living room of the family's apartment. "He wouldn't hurt a fly." He said his father lost his hearing at the age of 4 after a bout with spinal meningitis. "He couldn't hear, but he could speak," Adler said. Gerald Adler received a bachelor's degree in mathematic from Gallaudet in 1935. He had met his wife while they were students there and they had married a short time later.

They lived for a while in Detroit, where Adler worked as a civil engineer and as an insurance and real estate agent.

In 1966, he received a master's degree in special education from the University of Michigan. He taught at the Maryland and West Virginia Schools for the Deaf. Then, in 1969, he moved to Washington and began teaching at Gallaudet.

Adler loved to travel and he and his wife had made many trips abroad. On two occasions, he took groups of Gallaudet students to Europe.

Adler was very active in the Gallaudet Alumni Association, and had served as its treasurer since 1970.

He was also a member of the National Association of the Deaf, the Michigan Association of the Deaf, the Alexandria-Potomac Lions Club and the convention of American Instructors of the Deaf.

His wife works as a consultant to the deaf and hard of hearing communication disorders branch of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

Richard Johnson, a close friend of Adler's said yesterday, "Jerry was an extremely kind individual, who spent a large amount of his time in working for the betterment of deaf people. "His death was a great shock to the entire deaf community and such an awful waste of a hard-working and kind-hearted person who had given so much for others."