Dr. Simon Parisier ’53, Pioneer Surgeon in Treating Hearing Impaired, is Named 2009 HM Distinguished Alumnus
Pictured:The family of Dr. Parisier gathered to honor the Horace Mann Distinguished Alumnus Left to right: Nicole Parisier Benardette '85, Benardette, Lauren Parisier Weiss '87, Kaitlin Weiss, Dr. Simon Parisier '53, Jason Weiss, Elaine Parisier, Rebecca Parisier, Ethan Parisier, David Parisier '83, and Aaron Parisier
Dr. Simon Parisier ’53 is known as a "Hearing Hero" by hundreds of hearing impaired children and adults whose lives he has changed for the better. He is a pioneer developer of the cochlear implant—a device that effectively restores hearing to those able to benefit from its use. For hundreds of others with hearing impairments that preclude implants Dr. Parisier’s work as a surgeon, researcher and hearing advocate has enhanced their engagement with the hearing world.
Dr. Parisier is also a Horace Mann School Distinguished Alumnus—the latest HM alumnus to be honored with the Alumni Association Award for Distinguished Achievement. The award was presented on November 10, 2009 at a dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, where Dr. Parisier was feted by family, colleagues, members of the Horace Mann School Alumni Council and HM administration, and by longtime friends from his HM Class of 1953. Active members of the Horace Mann School community, where Dr. Parisier’s wife Elaine Parisier, chaired the Parents Association, the Parisiers are the parents of three Horace Mann School graduates: David Parisier '83, Nicole Benardete '85, and Lauren Weiss '87. They are also aunt and uncle to alumnus Charles Stam '08 and current student Elisabeth Stam '12 and the proud grandparents of six grandchildren.
The Distinguished Alumnus Award is bestowed annually by the Horace Mann School Alumni Council and recognizes HM alumni who have distinguished themselves through their professional achievements. During the 52-year history of the award honorees have included Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Elliott Carter '26 and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Anthony Lewis '43 and Robert Caro '53, Dr. Parisier’s classmate.
Pioneering solutions to hearing loss; restoring hearing to hundreds
A noted otolaryngologist, by the late 1970s Dr. Parisier was well into his career as an ear surgeon, working to save failing hearing. However, he was ever-frustrated each time he had to tell the parents of a deaf child that nothing could be done to restore their child’s hearing. Thus, in 1979 when the cochlear implant made its first appearance as an invention in the development stage, Dr. Parisier was among the first to explore and expand the use of this device that is surgically placed in the cochlea, restoring sound to deaf ears. Since then Dr. Parisier has been a pivotal figure in the development of cochlear implants and is a leader in the surgical management of chronic ear disease, hearing restoration, and the cellular biology of cholesteatoma, a destructive ear disorder.
Today, as a result of Dr. Parisier's efforts, many children born deaf have had their hearing restored, developed normal speech, achieved educationally in the mainstream, and succeeded in the hearing world. Moreover, profoundly deaf elderly individuals who have had their hearing restored have escaped the devastating isolation of deafness.
Recognizing that surgical intervention alone would not ensure a child’s successful acquisition of the skills needed to develop listening, spoken language, thinking and learning, in 1983 Dr. Simon and Mrs. Elaine Parisier co-founded The Children’s Hearing Institute, a not-for-profit agency at the New York Eye Ear Infirmary which has provided educational and clinical services for children with cochlear implants, and has raised and distributed over $14 million dollars to fund cochlear implant research.
“Medicine, in my case, otology, the specialty that treats ear diseases and restores hearing, has been my avocation and passion,” Dr. Parisier told those gathered in his honor.
Dr. Parisier developed this special interest during medical school and as a resident. Following his graduation from Horace Mann School Simon Parisier went on for his undergraduate degree at Columbia College, graduating in 1957. He then studied medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, completing his degree in 1961. Pursuing his residency at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City Dr. Parisier counted 1992 Horace Mann Distinguished Alumnus Award honoree Dr. Arthur Aufses Jr. ’42 as “an important mentor.”
Dr. Parisier was appointed Chairman of Otolaryngology at Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital in 1983. In June 2004, he joined the New York Eye Ear Infirmary as the Co-Director of their new Cochlear Implant Center. The American Academy of Otolaryngology awarded him both an Award of Merit and its Distinguished Service Award.
Addressing those gathered, Dr. Parisier spoke of the great technological advances he has seen throughout his medical career, but also referred to the current debate on health care in wondering whether all of society would be able to benefit from these advances. Citing Charles Dickens’ famous opening of “A Tale of Two Cities” Dr. Parieser said, “today, the technological advances in medicine have been miraculous. Curing deafness, unplugging coronary arteries, deciphering the genome, gene therapies, imaging techniques that allow us to accurately view our inner body structures, living longer are a few examples. Truly, these are the best of times,” he said.
“However, our society’s ability to provide medical care to its citizens is problematic and lags behind these scientific advances: so “These may be the worst of times.”
Dr. Parisier thanked his wife, Elaine, for advancing his work through her founding of The Children’s Hearing Institute, as well as for serving as his editor for the many papers and speeches he has presented throughout his career. He acknowledged guests Leonard Boxer and Burt Tansky, two board members of The Institute who Elaine “recruited and who have helped us succeed” in the mission of providing assistance to the surgeon has been able to help. And, Dr. Parisier expressed his deep appreciation to Horace Mann School for the education he pursued there, and that his children benefitted from, and the Alumni Council for honoring him with the Distinguished Alumni Award.
A Distinguished Alumnus whose work reaches into the HM community itself
Congratulating Dr. Simon Parisier '53 (center, holding award) on being honored as the recipient of the 2009 HM Alumni Council Award for Distinguished Service were (l to r) Alumni Council nominating committee co-chairs Bill Nightingale '49, Mickey Littman '52, HM Alumni Council president Justin Lerer '95, Chair, HM Board of Trustees Steve Friedman '72, and Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly.
Presenting the Horace Mann School Distinguished Alumnus Award at the dinner HM Alumni Council President Justin Lerer ’95 noted that the School’s Award for Distinguished Achievement is bestowed upon deserving alumni after a careful nomination process. “This year, under the leadership of Bill Nightingale, Class of 1949, and Mickey Littman, Class of 1952, a committee of 16 members of the Alumni Council researched the accomplishments of many of our fellow alumni and, over the course of several meetings, came to the happy selection of Dr. Simon Parisier,” said Lerer.
As he thanked the members of the nominating committee for their work Lerer also extended thanks to guests at the event, and particularly those who are members of Horace Mann’s Maroon and White Circle and Fellowship. “I know that the School greatly appreciates your generosity,” said Lerer. “I am proud to be part of an alumni body that so deeply loves its alma mater.”
Before enumerating Dr. Parisier’s many accomplishments Lerer presented a short film about The Children’s Hearing Institute, produced in honor of the Institute’s 25th anniversary. The film “truly captures the impact that The Children’s Hearing Institute, and Dr. Parisier, have had and continue to have on the lives of so many children,” Lerer said.
Horace Mann Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly greeted those gathered, in turn. Welcoming them to the “magnificent evening” Dr. Kelly described the occasion as “an evening when we come together as members of the Horace Mann School family to honor the towering achievements of one of our own.
“We have just learned about some of Dr. Simon Parisier’s accomplishments as founder, with his wife Elaine, of The Children’s Hearing Institute. We will soon learn more about his work as a distinguished ear surgeon, a professor, a dedicated researcher on hearing loss, ear disease and its prevention, and perhaps most prominently, as a pioneer developer of the cochlear implant and a pre-eminent implant surgeon.
“But, before Justin shares these biographical details with us, I would like to share with you just a few stories told by those Dr. Parisier has affected most. Dr. Parisier’s continuing development of the cochlear implant and his research related to hearing impairment has benefited well over 100,000 people worldwide. Among them are members of our own Horace Mann community,” said Dr. Kelly.
“Listen, first, to this story from a Horace Mann alumnus who graduated from The New England Conservatory of Music and later lost his hearing. A pianist and vocalist, he tours the world today with his own swing band. Said the alumnus, ‘as a professional musician, my life and career were impacted greatly when I lost my hearing. I learned sign language and lip reading, and considered other careers. Then I learned about cochlear implants. I went through the process and felt integrated with the world again, and able to return to music. When I travel to other countries I often speak about my experiences at schools for the deaf. Getting the cochlear implant gave me the opportunity to spread hope to kids and parents all over. It has been a great gift,’” Dr. Kelly quoted.
“Listen, next, to this story, from a Horace Mann administrator: ‘Our son was born with profound hearing loss. When he was two-years-old Dr. Parisier performed his surgery. It has been life-changing for our whole family that a child born with hearing impairment can connect with the hearing world. He is now 11. He participates in football, and anything else that interests him. He interacts with hearing children all the time. When I came to Horace Mann I had no idea Dr. Parisier was an alumnus. I feel that my being here brings our family full circle. Dr. Parisier was absolutely fantastic to us and to our son. We are eternally grateful,’” Dr. Kelly retold.
“Finally, there is this story that I share now with my Horace Mann family. I became hearing-impaired through an athletic injury in college. Remarkable as Dr. Parisier's work is as a surgeon, as a hearing-impaired adult and as an educator, I value equally his comprehensive approach to hearing impairment. Dr. Parisier and his wife Elaine understood that surgical intervention alone would not ensure that a child develop listening, spoken language, and learning skills. Thus, they took the visionary step of founding The Children’s Hearing Institute to support the emotional and educational development of hearing-impaired children, and those who support them in turn,” said Dr. Kelly.
“Dr. and Mrs. Parisier went the distance, and that is typical of the alumnus we honor tonight. One need only look back to the fall of 1952 for proof—when ‘Sy’ Parisier made his mark on the HM Varsity Football team in Coach Bill Quinn’s first season,” said Dr. Kelly, referring to the honoree by his nickname. Acknowledging former Lions’ football teammates present at the dinner, Dr. Kelly continued, “The ‘Quinnmen’ were taking a drubbing at the hands of Poly Prep. But then, as the Mannikin retells: ‘Led by a somewhat battered Rog Navarro, Tom Bartlett and Sy Parisier, HM held Poly scoreless and scored a T.D. themselves in the second half.’
“And what about that game against Trinity on November 14, 1952—57 years ago this week?” Dr. Kelly continued. Quoting the yearbook again, he said, “‘Parisier, running well from the fullback slot, scored twice. Horace Mann won its second game of the year 20-19.’ Finally, in a rain-soaked-last-game-of-the-year, our ‘Sy Parisier jumped out in a sea of mud in the first period’ and, together with his teammates ‘tallied 19 points,’” read Dr. Kelly.
“Sy Parisier … remained a close friend of our School: He and Elaine gave Horace Mann their talented children to educate. But it was not enough for the Parisiers to cheer their children from the sidelines. Elaine threw herself into the life of Horace Mann as did her husband and children, and became Chair of the HM Parents Association. A Book Fair she launched remains an annual tradition, raising significant funds for Library-related activities, and additions to our collection.
“With Dr. Simon and Elaine Parisier guiding the Children's Hearing Institute, with Sy’s Horace Mann alumni friends applauding his efforts, and with members of our community benefiting from his brilliance, the Distinguished Alumnus Award we bestow tonight represents a true moment of pride for the entire Horace Mann School family.
“A proverb of ancient Arabic origin advises, ‘The mind is for seeing; the heart is for hearing.’ Tonight we honor a man who applied his considerable mind to seeing the needs of others... and who heard them with his heart,” Dr. Kelly concluded.
A curious mind and powerful intellect combine to make a lasting contribution
Members of Dr. Simon Parisier's Horace Mann Class of 1953 participated in honoring their classmate.
Before being joined by Dr. Parisier, the co-chairs of the Alumni Council nominating committee, Dr. Kelly and Chair of the HM Board of Trustees Steve Friedman ’72 for the award presentation, Justin Lerer resumed his account of the Distinguished Alumnus’ accomplishments. “To put it in the simplest and most amazing way, Dr. Parisier is a doctor who makes deaf people hear,” Lerer said. “His work provides children who were born deaf with the ability to hear for the first time, and restores the hearing of elderly people. What could be more remarkable?
“Dr. Parisier has been especially passionate about working with children. As Dr. Parisier has noted, by giving children the gift of hearing, he allows them easier access to the speech and language skills that are essential to education,” said Lerer, referring to Dr. Parisier’s founding of The Children’s Hearing Institute.
“As a medical researcher and educator, Dr. Parisier has been prolific. He has authored over 120 publications and made over 200 presentations. He has been honored with the Award of Merit and the Distinguished Service Award by the American Academy of Otolaryngology. And he has received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Boston University School of Medicine (where he was also appointed to the Board of Visitors),” Lerer recounted.
“But before he was a doctor, Simon Parisier was a high school student—a precocious and daring one, in fact. He transferred into Horace Mann after completing sophomore year at his previous high school. As part of a deal worked out with Dr. (Mitchell) Gratwick, the headmaster at the time, Simon was permitted to skip junior year and go directly into senior year if he would take English and math in summer school. On his first day of summer school, Simon wanted to do some homework in the library, but the library was locked. But that didn’t stop him. He climbed in through an unlocked window. When Dr. Williams, the assistant headmaster, confronted him and asked if he usually climbed through windows to get into libraries, Simon responded that libraries were usually not locked.
“Clearly, he was made for Horace Mann,” said Lerer.
And Horace Mann was made for Dr. Parisier’s family as well, Lerer said, referring to the Parisier family’s profound connections to Horace Mann.
“Just like he did not let a locked library door stop him from studying, Dr. Parisier has refused to let children go without hearing when his skill and ingenuity could help them. He has been called a “Hearing Hero” by New York Magazine. Tonight, we honor that heroism by presenting him with the Horace Mann School Association Award for Distinguished Achievement.”
Remarks by Dr. Simon Parisier ’53 upon being honored with the 2009 Horace Mann Alumni Council Award for Distinguished Achievement
Dr. Simon Parisier '53 expressed his thanks to the HM Alumni Council for his award and his appreciation to his alma mater for the education he received and that would eventually launch his career as a distinguished otolaryngologist.
Remember the 1954 movie “On the Waterfront” when Marlon Brando, riding in the back of a limousine, tells his brother Rode Steiger, I could have been a contender.”
At Horace Mann my passion was sports, especially football and I was pretty good. Against Poly Prep, one of a few games that we won, I scored two touchdowns. The game got a brief write up and I was mentioned in the New York Times—something I still have not gotten over. However, Coach Quinn, our football coach set me straight. “Parisier—you’re one step too slow.” So much for my illustrious football career—on to medicine!
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, 1859
Medicine, in my case, otology, the specialty that treats ear diseases and restores hearing, has been my avocation and passion.
Forty-eight years ago I graduated Boston University School of Medicine. During my residency at Mt. Sinai Hospital, Arthur Aufses Jr., the 1992 Horace Mann Distinguished Alumnus Award honoree, was an important mentor. At that time, antibiotics and the control of infectious diseases were the hot things.
In 1965, Lyndon Johnson, using his political power, convinced Congress to pass the Social Security Act which created Medicare and Medicaid. His biographer Robert Caro, my classmate, the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, received The Horace Mann Distinguished Alumni Award in 1977.
Today, the technological advances in medicine have been miraculous. Curing deafness, unplugging coronary arteries, deciphering the genome, gene therapies, imaging techniques that allow us to accurately view our inner body structures, living longer are a few examples. Truly, these are the best of times.
However, our society’s ability to provide medical care to its citizens is problematic and lags behind these scientific advances: so these may be the worst of times
In 1964 Bob Dylan wrote "The Times they are a changing":
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
S a battle outside
And it is ragin’. It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.”
I am grateful to the many who have contributed to my success: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…” John Dunn, 1624
I was privileged to graduate Horace Mann, a School that provided me with a strong educational foundation upon which I was able to build my success. Elaine, my wife for 48 years, has enriched my life and greatly contributed to my success. A graduate of Smith College, she taught high school English and edited the numerous papers I wrote. When our children were at Horace Mann, she was extremely involved, become the PA President.
In 1983, she founded the not-for-profit Children’s Hearing Institute and, working pro-bono, was the first Executive Director, During the past 26 years, the Children’s Hearing Institute has provided over $13 million dollars to support The Cochlear Implant Center at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. Without her invaluable enthusiasm and hard work, the pioneering cochlear implant investigations that have resulted in the elimination of profound deafness would not have succeeded.
Two members of the Board whom she recruited and who have helped us succeed, Leonard Boxer and Burt Tansky, are here tonight. Thank you both for coming.
I am extremely proud of my three children who are also graduates of Horace Mann and who have succeeded in their chosen fields: David ’83, founded a successful real estate company, Paradim, is married to Rebecca Zim, a successful interior designer. Dr. Nicole Parisier Beardete ’85, a professor at the Gallatin School of NYU, is married to Ethan Benardette, a neurosurgeon. Lauren Parisier Weiss ’87, an entrepreneur, founded a skin care product company, Basq, and is married to Rick Weiss, a vice president at Goldman Sachs.
Also, my nephew Charles Stam ’08, a former Student Body President, graduated Horace Mann in 2007 and is a sophomore at Columbia College. His sister Elizabeth, a member of the Glee Club and Fencing Team, is in 10th grade.
Four of our six grandchildren were old enough to come tonight. Aaron and Ethan Parisier, Katelyn and Jason Weiss. Niki and Ethan’s two children, Chloe 4 and James 3 months old, are at home.
It is very meaningful for me to be recognized by the School that has educated my family and to whom we are so grateful. Thank you.