Obituary – Tina Riner

Tina Riner, highly regarded interpreter for the deaf

By Andrew Meacham, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Friday, May 28, 2010

DADE CITY — Tina Riner loved horses and sign language.

She was a highly regarded interpreter for the deaf who could sign with subtlety and contextual accuracy in different dialects and in sensitive situations, including legal and medical work.

When hospitals needed someone to communicate with a rape victim who was deaf, they called Riner. If a suspect police were interviewing in a criminal case was deaf, they called her, too.

Her affinity for horses dated back to infancy, when her mother ferried her around on horseback, starting at 9 months old. She owned a miniature horse, about 3 feet tall, all black except for his white forelegs. Socks pulled her in a buggy when she visited neighbors, or gave rides to children.

Ms. Riner died May 13, after falling from a horse. She was 38.

She was born and raised in Naples, and she found her twin loves early. She saw her first sign language interpreter in the fourth grade, and the other hook was set.

Ms. Riner went to Stetson University, then Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., where she became certified in sign language.

She moved to Lithia, then Dade City, and began contracting her work as a signer. She did it for 15 years, and it suited her.

“She was smart,” said her mother, Nadine Riner. “It was a reward to her and challenging at the same time.”

Ms. Riner traveled the state and beyond, helping the deaf communicate across a gamut of situations.

Sometimes the hospital called because a deaf person had been involved in an accident or was giving birth.

She signed at museum lectures and plays, for NASA in Cape Canaveral, even on cruises. She signed for politicians, including Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, when they passed through the Tampa Bay area. Once, she signed for a taping of Oprah.

“She had conceptual accuracy and the ability to do cultural translation,” said Jennifer Hess, an employment services specialist for Port Richey’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services of Florida. “She could translate an idiom from English into something maybe a deaf person could understand. She also did medical and legal interpreting. You have to have great skills to do that, because the liability is so high.”

She smoldered when she saw clients neglected by their parents or the school system. (Ninety percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents. But only 20 percent of those parents ever learn sign language, Hess said).

She answered the same questions about deaf people over and over. One of her pet peeves was that people found it so hard to believe deaf people can drive cars.

“Those are things you would think would be hidden by the dark ages,” said friend and fellow interpreter April Perry, 38. “But we see them every day.”

To symbolize her frustration, Ms. Riner sometimes wore a T-shirt that read: “I see dumb people.”

Away from work, Ms. Riner re-tiled and painted the home she bought five years ago. She was equally happy knocking down or painting walls; sanding furniture or curled up with a book; all dressed up for a trial or out in the yard with her big hat, pushing a lawn mower.

She was nearly finished with a remodeling and painting project, and she was looking forward to taking her interpreting business to the next level, whatever that might be.

At 9 p.m. May 7, she went horseback riding with a neighbor. John Olski said he and Ms. Riner had just entered a pasture behind his property when she told him to go ahead.

“She said, ‘I’ll be right with you,’ ” said Olski, 83.

When she didn’t catch up, Olski turned around and looked back. He saw the quarter horse she had been riding thundering toward him. He wondered why she was going so fast.

The quarter horse flew past him, reins flapping. No one was riding it.

Olski found Ms. Riner on the ground. She died six days later at Tampa General Hospital, a result of head injuries sustained in the fall, her family said.

Her family and friends are trying to reconcile the loss.

Said Perry: “Tina had accomplished everything life had to offer.”

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this story. Andrew Meacham can be reached at or . Copyright 2010 St. Petersburg Times

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