Barbra Harvey Esden Barnes
Phoenix – On Mother’s Day, May 8, 2022, Barbra Harvey Esden Barnes, our beloved Warrior Woman, died peacefully at home with her children beside her. She was six weeks shy of her 91st birthday. Our mother fought with a lion’s heart to stay with us as long as she could, and we are so grateful to have had so much meaningful time with her.
Barbra was a force of nature, a relentlessly curious woman, with a quick wit and strong convictions about education, politics, and local and global conservation. She proudly flew the Earth Flag every year as a reminder to love and respect our planet. She read at least three books at a time, pondered and discussed big ideas, the “why” and “how” of human nature and history, challenged conventions, and stood up for who and what she believed in. She loved birdwatching (her grandchildren called her “Grammy Birdy”), playing games, watching tennis (Roger Federer was her favorite), painting with watercolors, listening to classical music and attending The Phoenix Symphony’s concerts, engaging her Flinn Scholars on Facebook, reading the Sunday New York Times outside in the sunshine, and getting together with her dear friends. Barbra was the glue of our tight-knit family, and she will be missed beyond measure.
Raised in Chicago by her mother, Elizabeth Harvey, and her caretaker and lifelong guide, Aunt Evelyn “Evy” Mayer, Barbra graduated from Sullivan High School in 1949. She attended Colorado College, where she was a Kappa Alpha Theta and enthusiastic hockey fan. She was Esquire Magazine’s “Calendar Queen” in September 1951, and she married John Esden in 1952. Tragically, John died of polio only seven months after they were married. After his untimely death, Barbra returned to CC to finish her degree. In 1954, John’s best man introduced her to Duane Barnes. A year later, after Barbra received her bachelor’s degree in English, she and Duane married. Thereafter, the four Barnes children arrived, beginning the siblings’ lifelong devotion to each other, through thick and thin.
The Barnes family moved from Denver to Wheaton, IL in 1964, where Barbra formed lifelong friendships, served with distinction on the Wheaton School Board for 16 years, and later worked at a locally owned bookshop. Oh, how she lamented the advent of big box bookstores! On Sundays, in lieu of church, she took her children to the Morton Arboretum, where she instilled in us an appreciation for the outdoors, the splendor of flora and fauna, and the joy of rolling down a good hill with squeals and laughter. Oftentimes, a trip to Mister Donut would follow.
In 1984, after she and Duane had parted ways and her children had flown the nest, Barbra headed west to Phoenix, where she found a beautiful home overlooking a wash that made her backyard seem as though it was part of the desert itself. She didn’t like things trimmed neatly, preferring that everything be allowed to grow a little wild and more colorful. Barbra landed the job of her lifetime and became the first director of the Flinn Scholars Program at the Flinn Foundation. As the “den mother” of the Flinn Scholars, fondly known as the “Flinns,” for over a decade, she encouraged them, consoled them, and helped them find and follow their passions, fostering future leaders for our community and others. She created numerous bonding experiences for the Flinns, taking them all over beautiful Arizona, watching the release of condors, rafting rivers, and camping under the stars. During the holidays, the flood of cards that would arrive from the Flinns from all over the world made her very proud and happy, as did their many visits over the years.
Barbra later worked as the Senior Program Officer for the Arizona Community Foundation, where she enjoyed the meaningful work until she felt ready to retire at 70. She slowed down not a bit, continuing to serve on numerous boards and pouring her energy into causes she believed in, and making our community and the world better and more sustainable.
Barbra loved her summers up in Divide, Colorado, living in a cabin she inherited from her dear Aunt Evy called “Toukalot.” Barbra hosted many friends and family alike over the years, spending much time out on the deck enjoying the glorious view of Pike’s Peak. All would leave with new knowledge about the birds, critters, and wildflowers of Toukalot, and having played various board and card games, losing to her more often than not.
Barbra is survived by her children: Jennifer Barnes (Regina Blakely), Bruce Barnes, Claudia Barnes Bement (Bob Bement), and Hilary Barnes; and her grandchildren: Quinn de la Concepcion, Hannah Murphy, and Lucas Murphy (Caitlin Murphy). Barbra’s memorial service will be held on Thursday, May 26th, at 9:30 a.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix (masks required indoors), located at 4027 E. Lincoln Drive, Paradise Valley, AZ 85253. In lieu of flowers, please donate to the Nature Conservancy or plant a native tree. She would be so honored by the outpouring of love and remembrances her family has received during this difficult time. May her memory be a blessing to all who knew and loved her.