"ROCKY" STONE: FROM CIA TO SHHH

by Stan Griffin

"Rocky": the name calls to mind someone or something tough and unyielding such as: Rocky Balboa, the movie prizefighter who refused to be beaten; "the Rock," a professional wrestler and actor (also Alcatraz, once the country’s most formidable prison); the Rocky Mountains; the Rock of Gibraltar, a symbol of strength; and rock climbing, a dangerous profession (or hobby) calling for courage and resourcefulness.

Howard Stone was given the nickname "Rocky" because (1) his father was an amateur boxer; and (2) Stone’s own "scrappy nature." He overcame a profound hearing loss to have a 25-year career with the Central Intelligence Agency. After his retirement, Stone took on a second vocation as an advocate for the hard of hearing, founding Self Help for Hard of Hearing People (SHHH). an organization which " ... grew to international stature ..."

In 1994 Stone lost his sight to macular degeneration. Refusing to be sidelined, he continued to work on behalf of others with hearing losses until his death in August, 2004.

Howard E. Stone was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on March 3, 1925. He grew up during the depression. When he was seven, his father deserted the family; and Howard had to help support his mother and two sisters. For a time, he ran a corner newsstand. At age 14, he managed a dairy bar said to have been one of the busiest in town.

When World War II broke out, Stone enlisted in the U. S. Army. His military career ended suddenly when he suffered a bilateral hearing loss (in both ears) from exposure to explosions during basic training. Subsequently he was given a discharge from the service.

In 1945 Stone entered the University of Southern California as a business student. He found he was missing a lot of class discussions and lectures and realized his hearing loss was more extensive than he thought. Deciding he hated business, Stone switched to international affairs and graduated with an honors degree in International Relations.

He won a scholarship to Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and completed one year in their Master Studies program. Stone also eventually received an Honorary Doctorate degree from Gallaudet University in Washington, D. C.

While he was in Washington, Stone was signed up by the fledgling Central Intelligence Agency. His first foreign assignment was to Iran. He arrived there in time to take part in the events that restored Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to the throne. The Shah (king) had been forced to leave Iran (1953) after Prime Minister Mossadegh nationalized (took over) the British-controlled Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.

Loss of the oil fields combined with a fear of increasing Communist influence brought together British intelligence and the CIA. They gave "overt support" to the Iranian army when it attempted to take control of the government later that same year (1953). They called it "Operation Ajax." A critical meeting between two American reporters and the son of Fazlollah Zahedi, the general who was leading the rebels, was held in Stone’s residence. Mrs. Stone sat in a rocking chair near Zahedi with a pistol hidden beneath her knitting. She was "internal security" for that encounter.

Later General Zahedi was in Stone’s basement when he learned of the revolt’s imminent successful climax. Tanks arrived to take him to his temporary headquarters. Stone had to help the general button the tunic of his dress uniform when Zahedi was too nervous to do it himself. During a victory party at the CIA office that same night, two overjoyed Zahedis (father and son) came up to Stone and said: "We’re in ... We’re in ... What do we do now?"

Here is a partial list of places where Stone was employed by the C.I.A along with a few career highlights:

(1) 1957–Chief of Station in Damascus, Syria

Here he tried to arrange a coup (rebellion) against the government. When it failed, he and his family had to leave the country in a hurry.

(2) 1960s (early)–Chief of Station in Katmandu, Nepal

He heard rumors of a possible coup against the king by a former government minister so he arranged to have a gift sent to that man: a miniature replica of a cannon. In its base was a microphone and a battery-powered transmitter. Stone was able to listen in to "the plot"; as a result, there was no coup.

(3) 1966 Deputy Station Chief and Chief of Intelligence in Saigon, South Vietnam

Stone tried to gain a "negotiated settlement" instead of a military solution to the problem there. He was able to make contact with the Viet Cong but couldn’t work out a peaceful answer.

(4) Pakistan

(5) Sudan-- Chief of Station in Khartoum

(6) Stone was Chief of Operations of the Soviet Bloc Division (Eastern Europe)–based at CIA headquarters.

(7) Italy–Chief of Station in Rome

This was Stone’s last C.I.A. post. It was there he fell down a flight of stairs and lost what was left of his hearing. He was forced to retire (1975) and received the Agency’s highest honor: the Distinguished Intelligence Medal.

Describing "Rocky" Stone, his supervisors and co-workers used the following words and phrases:

"Intellectually brilliant ... (with) superior concentration, ... a tenacious personality ... (and) a relentless work ethic ... "His intelligence assessments were accurate and blunt but responsible."

It was 1979 when Stone incorporated "Self Help for Hard of Hearing People" (SHHH) as a non-profit corporation. He set up an office in the basement of his home in Bethesda, Maryland.

Its aims are to: (1) inform the hard of hearing and their families of hearing devices; (2) inspire them to deal with their deafness as "simply one more life crisis." It is now the chief consumer organization for people with hearing loss and has grown to more than 250 groups and chapters meeting in 49 states, a sister organization in Australia, and members in 15 other countries.

Stone devoted his time and energy to working for the welfare of hard-of-hearing people and focusing attention on their interests. His " ... selfless service and dedication to advancing the quality of life for people with hearing loss ..." earned him praise from many quarters.

Stone’s "aggressive advocacy on behalf of persons with disabilities" brought him into close working relationships with U.S. Senators. It culminated in enactment of the revolutionary Americans with Disabilities Act (1990). He was appointed by President Reagan to serve on the Access Board that drafted accessibility guidelines, and he saw to it that "communication access needs of the hard of hearing were written into (them)." Stone traveled extensively and was an internationally known speaker.

Stone retired from SHHH in 1993. The following year was a significant one for him. He lost his sight to macular degeneration, and he also had a cochlear implant that restored much of his hearing. This allowed him to communicate with his family as well as to keep working on behalf of others who had the same problems.

Stone served on numerous committees, boards, and coalitions, all of which were attempting to improve the quality of life for hard-of-hearing people. From 1996-2000 he was president of the International Hard of Hearing Federation. He founded and was executive director of Teamwork for Hearing Health Services. It was made up of hearing health professionals working to promote cooperation between components of their community

Howard E. "Rocky" Stone died on August 13, 2004 at Washington Hospital Center of adult respiratory distress syndrome. He was survived by his wife, four children, and ten grandchildren.