Paul laughing and wearing a henley
Paul laughing in his kitchen. Courtesy: Friends of Paul Preston

Paul Michael Preston died in his home on Sept. 28 after a long and courageous battle with multiple myeloma. But that is not the full story.

Paul was born in Joliet, Illinois, during one of the worst blizzards in U.S. history. He grew up an only child of deaf parents in the small town of Shorewood, Illinois, population at the time: 101. In 1996, in another historic natural event, his family home on the Du Page River was destroyed by a 500-year-flood and, despite the loss, he appreciated that the area became a park rather than a strip mall. Over the years he lived in Chicago, Cincinnati and Tucson before settling for good in Berkeley in 1982.

His formative experience as a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) influenced his later interest in disability and the social and psychological experiences of hearing children of deaf parents. In 1992 he earned a Ph.D. from UCSF and UC Berkeley in Medical Anthropology, his research focusing on the CODA community. He subsequently worked up his dissertation into a book entitled Mother Father Deaf: Living between Sound and Silence, published by Harvard University Press in 1994. Over his career, he contributed numerous journal articles and book chapters on disability and deafness. In addition to his Ph.D., Paul received BA and MA degrees in English from the University of Chicago, and an M.Ed. from the University of Arizona.

Professionally, he worked as a teacher and counselor of the deaf and for 24 years as associate director of Through the Looking Glass, a Berkeley-based, nationally recognized leader in advocacy and support for families with disabilities. He was co-director of TLG’s national centers for parents with disabilities, including its international conferences. Based on his research, he provided trainings and publications to improve national practice and resources for families with parental disability or deafness. He also had a role in the construction of the Ed Roberts Campus at the Ashby BART station, where TLG is a current tenant.

Paul hiking. He's small in the photo and a big hill covered in scrub is large
Paul Preston. Courtesy: Friends of Paul Preston

Though his nuclear family remained small, growing only to include Tim, his beloved husband of 38 years, his refrigerator was covered with photos of friends and honorary family. He took great pleasure in the companionship of his friends and found kinship in many different communities over his life: CODA brothers and sisters, devoted antiquing buddies, intrepid botanizers, the Aquamates of Berkeley Senior Water Aerobics, TLG work family and neighbors along two blocks stretching from his prime location on a corner — just one of many intersections in his life.

A self-described dilettante, Paul was one of those rare souls who had both the curiosity to explore new territories and the discipline to excel in them. Over 40 years, he and his husband decorated their home with a kaleidoscope of treasures, from mementos of the American Southwest he loved so much, to antiques and vintage pottery. The two served as editors for Bauer Quarterly, a newsletter/magazine devoted to Bauer Pottery of Los Angeles. He loved the natural world and planted his garden so spring would bloom through it in a month-long cascade. He became an accomplished amateur photographer as he and his husband documented petals, leaves and stems in every cycle of growth to compile a California Native Plant database of over 80,000 of their plant photos.

Paul had an easy laugh and loved a good story. He was a quick wit as well as deeply thoughtful and caring. He loved to travel, hike, botanize and cook until his cancer diagnosis and then the pandemic clamped down on many of these pursuits.

Paul and his husband coming down steps of government building and waving as others watch
Paul Preston and Tim Lukaszewski get married at San Francisco City Hall in 2004. Courtesy: Friends of Paul Preston

He is preceded in death by his husband, Tim Lukaszewski, and his parents, Frances and Michael Preston, for whom he was the primary caregiver. He is survived by many friends, cousins and chosen family near and far.

In lieu of flowers, please consider contributing to The Ridges Sanctuary (Door County, WI), the California Native Plant Society or CODA International.

A memorial will be held 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 19, at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley.

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