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​Rhodes Scholars pay tribute to Professor William Barber

​Rhodes Scholars pay tribute to Professor William Barber

Professor William Barber (Kansas & Balliol 1949) (13 January 1925 – 26 October 2016) will be much missed by the entire Rhodes Scholar community. Professor Barber came up to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar in 1949, pursuing PPE before reading for a DPhil in Economics. He went on to be an infantry soldier during the Second World War and later joined Wesleyan University where he spent 37 years teaching. William was actively engaged in the Wesleyan leadership from being a founding member of the College of Social studies, to Acting President for three months in 1988 until President Chase assumed office. Moreover, his numerous publications include A History of Economic Thought, 11 other books as author or editor, and hundreds of articles on economic trends and developments in the United States, Africa, Britain, Europe, India and other areas of Asia.

He remained extremely committed to the Rhodes Trust throughout his life. Professor Barber was the American Secretary from 1970 to 1980 and he greatly assisted in the process of opening up the Rhodes Scholarship to women. He was appointed an honorary officer of the Order of the British Empire for his services to the Rhodes Trust. He received many other honours and awards including the Ford Foundation Foreign Area Fellowship for study in Africa from 1955-57, Distinguished Fellow of the History of Economics Society in 2002 at Wesleyan University and he received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Wesleyan.

Stephen Ferruolo (Rhode Island & St John's 1971) wrote these moving words:

"I said goodbye to Bill Barber when I visited Middletown this past April will my wife Julie and my son Stephen, now a freshman at Wesleyan (thanks, in part, to Bill), and we met at the Middletown Inn for coffee with him, Sheila, their son Charlie and Charlie’s wife. I had not seen Bill in several years and the trench foot he developed fighting valiantly in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 had taken its toll and was limiting his mobility, but his spirit and his intellect were still fully intact. He and Sheila also still had that sparkle between them that I always admired. We had a lively conversation about politics, history and academia. Sharing that beautiful New England morning with Bill is a memory I will always cherish, the concluding episode of a nearly fifty-year relationship with a great and beloved teacher, who was an inspiration to me and to so many others.

Bill Barber was a towering figure in every respect. I recall my first impression of Bill, when I arrived as a new student in the College of Social Studies, the interdisciplinary program at Wesleyan, that Bill and several colleagues founded (modelled on PPE at Oxford), and in which he taught for many years. I was first awed by Bill’s physical stature and voice and then immediately drawn to him by warmth, the interest he evidenced in his students and his well-known sense of humor. Who can forget Bill’s deep and hearty laughs! In his early years as American Secretary, I saw that Bill’s impressive physical stature was more than matched by his strong will, sound judgment and impeccable integrity. All Rhodes Scholars owe a great debt to Bill for his leadership and steadfast hands in diversifying the Scholarships and especially in the admission of women. These were not easy issues, legally or socially, and Bill Barber (among others) deserves credit for securing the legacy of the Scholarships through a very challenging decade.

More personally, Bill Barber inspired me to become a professor. He was the paragon of the teacher-scholar that I once aspired to be. When, after a career in law, I returned to academia in 2011 to become a law school dean, I got a note of approval from Bill. That note mattered a great deal to me. It confirmed for me that I had made the right decision.

I learned of Bill’s death from his youngest son Charlie, who wrote that his Dad “lived a long and full life, and should have died at age 18 in the north of France, so it is a remarkable story.” It is, indeed a remarkable story. As I wrote to Charlie, whenever I heard reference to what Tom Brokaw called the "greatest generation," I thought of Bill Barber and the Battle of the Bulge. Fortunately, Bill survived that battle, lived for another 73 years, reared (along with his equally remarkable partner, Sheila) three wonderful boys, fought more battles, and left of strong and enduring legacy -- the scores of men and women who are better people because of who Bill was and what he did."