By Roy Harris
The Stephen Barr Award—the prestigious prize administered by the not-for-profit ASBPE Foundation—has lost its godmother.
ASBPE’s leadership was shocked by the news that Judith Keller Barr had died suddenly, of a heart attack, on Sept. 24. She had been one of the staunchest supporters of our efforts to keep the quality of B2B journalism high. Ten years ago, Judith, then 67, with her husband Charles, endowed our Stephen Barr Award, in honor and memory of the exemplary journalistic career of their son. It has become our highest individual prize for feature writing, going to 10 journalists whose work stood out among the year’s Awards of Excellence.
To me, however, Judith’s passing is extremely personal. And it was the way she became committed to the idea of honoring Stephen—a way that involved enlightening individuals about how to increase the power of the media—that drew us close together.
Judith believed that a good idea needed to be nurtured by caring people if it was to develop into meaningful action. She stayed with it, constantly reminding all who supported her of the value that would result if the idea became reality.
In the case of the Stephen Barr Award, money was part of the need. She and Charles provided the endowment. But even further, she worked closely with the ASBPE awards organization to find just the right prize to create: a prize that reflected her son’s signature journalistic qualities: inventiveness of approach, insight, depth of investigation, balance in presentation, and eventual impact among the community of readers.
Those standards have governed the selection of Stephen Barr Award winners from the first, Adam Minter (for his riveting Scrap Magazine description of a little-understood but enormous industry in China), to the most recent, Burt Helm (for his Inc. Magazine study of the disproportionate impact of the bank-lending drought on small business people.)
Judith’s personal commitment to journalistic excellence, and to the writers who achieve it, didn’t stop with the presentation of the trophy. She and Charles often got to know the winning journalists, and followed their careers. And in at least one case, they pursued a personal relationship across the globe.
“I have a really lovely memory of spending a day wandering Shanghai with Judith,” Adam Minter, now with Bloomberg News, wrote me in an email. “She was absolutely delightful, and I had long hoped that I might meet up with her again.” He added, “The Barr Award was very meaningful to my career, and I don’t forget that.”
Burt Helm was surprised to find Judith and Charles, the benefactors of his award, attending the 10th annual presentation earlier this year at the ASBPE national conference in Chicago, and sitting at his table. The Barrs made sure Burt understood how important the award was to them, as well as to the reporters for whom winners serve as a model. They also spent time learning about his aspirations in journalism, and encouraging him about them.
They loved that Burt had studied at Yale, not far from their home in Branford, Conn.
Judith didn’t talk about her personal background often; she was more interested in the developing careers of the young journalists she supported. But she was a highly educated and most successful professional woman. A Goucher College alum, she received a Doctor of Science degree in Medical Sociology from Johns Hopkins, and served on the faculty at Rutgers and NYU, and most recently at Southern Connecticut State University. Professionally, she also had been a research scientist at New York Blue Cross/Blue Shield and the company Qualidigm.
ASBPE continues to grow stronger because of Judith, with the support of Charles, her husband of 57 years. Indeed, since her death donations in her name have continued to arrive at the ASBPE Foundation, which sponsors the Stephen Barr Award. That’s something that Judith dearly would have wanted.
But her most powerful legacy for ASBPE will be the idea that one supporter of journalism excellence can make a difference, by caring, and by committing resources to help acknowledge the young reporters who make that happen.
Judith Barr, ASBPE salutes you. We will miss you, as we miss a grandparent whose unconditional love supports us through life. And we send our heartfelt condolences to Charles Barr; to Stephen’s widow, Rebecca Vogel; and to their son, and Judith and Charles’s grandson, Sam Barr. Sam, citing the influence of both his parents and his grandparents, is pursuing a career in journalism and law at Harvard Law School.
- Roy Harris
Roy Harris, currently the president of the ASBPE Foundation and a former national president of ASBPE, has worked for CFO Magazine, and has served as editorial director of CFOworld.com. He is a former Wall Street Journal reporter.