John L. “Jack” Conley left this life knowing that he was deeply loved by his family.

He was born with cerebral palsy, unable to speak and deaf, but his parents and three brothers would not let those disabilities prevent him from leading a rich and full life.

They taught him how to walk, how to communicate, and made sure he always lived with a family member.

Mr. Conley died Wednesday at a Massachusetts hospital after a long illness. He was 71.

He had been living in Buxton for the past 10 years with his younger brother, Charles Conley, and his brother’s wife, Nancy.

“He was not the type of person who dwelled on what he couldn’t do. He was totally focused on what he could do,” his brother said.

Mr. Conley was born in Connecticut in 1940, the eldest son of John J. Conley and Ann Lenore Conley. He spent most of his life in Huntingdon, Pa.

When he was born, his doctors told his parents that he would never be able to walk.

“They were told to stick him in a home and forget about it, but my parents just wouldn’t accept their diagnosis. Jack was deeply loved,” his brother said.

Mr. Conley’s parents taught him how to walk, which he was able to do by age 3.

His mother, Lenore, became a staunch advocate for her son, enrolling him in a semester-long American Sign Language immersion course at Penn State University.

While at Penn State, he made friends with several members of the varsity football team. They sometimes traveled from their campus to Huntingdon to support cerebral palsy fundraising events.

“My brother was a very open, smiling person. He’d always wave at people. I think that made people gravitate toward him,” Charles Conley said.

His mother enrolled him in a therapeutic horseback riding program called Horsepower, where he learned to ride. He also became a Pennsylvania Special Olympics bowling champion.

“My mother had him on the go all the time doing things, enjoying life,” Charles Conley said.

Over the years, Mr. Conley learned skills by participating in sheltered workshops, including how to cane a chair seat.

He also made quilts, latchhook rugs, scarves, potholders and drawings.

Mr. Conley’s father died in 1977; his mother passed away in 2000.

He moved into his younger brother’s home in Buxton in 2001.

While living in Maine, he attended Camp Sign-A-Watha, a summer program for deaf individuals based in Monmouth.

“It was just something we all accepted, that Jack would be with us,” his brother said. “He brought such a positive energy to our home. It’s missing now. There’s a void.”

Mr. Conley used to wake up early, before he went to work at the Seedlings greenhouse program at the Morrison Developmental Center in Scarborough, and make coffee for his sister-in-law.

He’d leave her a note that said, “Nancy. Coffee ready.”

“He was an inspiration to all of us,” Nancy Conley said.

At Morrison, he became an accomplished gardener, planting and nurturing plants for sale in the center’s Seedlings program.

“He’d come home and show us the dirt under his fingernails,” his brother said.

In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be sent to the Morrison Developmental Center.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]