Hugh R. K. Barber, MD

Hugh RK Barber

1918 - 2006

Dr. Hugh R. K. Barber passed away on December 26, 2006 in New York City.  He was 88-years old.

Dr. Barber was a living legend.  He was respected by his colleagues for both his research and clinical acumen, and revered by young physicians as a teacher and mentor.  He was a pioneer in the study of gynecologic oncology and was internationally renowned for his seminal work on ovarian cancer.  Dr. Barber was born in 1918 in Erie, Pennsylvania.  After graduating from the Cheshire Academy he moved to New York City to continue his education.

As an undergraduate at Columbia College he excelled in both academics and sports.  He played football under the legendary coach Lou Little.  Dr. Barber was captain of Columbia’s football team and was chosen to play on the college all-star team against the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears.  In 1965 he was selected by Sports Illustrated for their Silver Anniversary football team alongside such legendary giants as Tommy Harmon and Jackie Robinson.  He earned his medical degree in 1944 from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.  He was voted class president all four years. 

His postgraduate training in OB-GYN at Lenox Hill Hospital was interrupted by two years of service in The Navy during WWII.  Following the war, as chief resident, he met the newly appointed head nurse in Labor and Delivery, Mary Louise McCauley.  They married and Mary Louise remained at his side for over 50 years. 

In 1952 he became the first OB-GYN trainee, at what is now Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, to be accepted into their 2-year post residency program in general surgical oncology.  It was during this time that Dr. Barber met Dr. Alexander Brunswig, the Chief of Gynecology at Memorial and pioneer of the pelvic exenteration.  Dr. Barber and Dr. Brunswig developed a special bond and together they coauthored dozens of papers on every aspect of the pelvic exenteration.

In 1954 he joined the Department of OB-GYN at Lenox Hill and was appointed Chairman in 1963, a position he held with distinction until 1997. Dr. Barber trained hundreds of OB-GYN residents at Lenox Hill, Cornell University Medical College and New York Medical College where he was Chairman of OB-GYN from 1978-1986.  In 2000 in recognition of Dr. Barber’s devoted service, Lenox Hill Hospital established the Hugh R.K. Barber Chair in Obstetrics and Gynecology. 

Dr. Barber’s major achievement was his continual contribution to the literature.  He wrote about virtually every gynecologic disorder.  He authored or coauthored 20 textbooks, 400 papers and over 1,000 abstracts.  He was the founding editor of the award winning magazine, The Female Patient, where he championed Women’s Health Care.  In his colorful monthly editorials he often challenged surgical training to obstetrics and gynecology, trial lawyers and government regulators.

Dr. Barber was a member of more than 50 national and international societies including president and founding member of Society of Gynecologic Oncologist, president and founding member of The New York Gynecological Society, president of The Society of Pelvic Surgeons, and a member of the New York Obstetrical Society since 1962.  In 2003 the Society of Gynecologic Oncologist established the Hugh R.K. Barber, M.D. Endowed Lecture which is presented each year at the Annual Meeting on Women’s Cancer.

His extensive list of honors include in 1977 The American Cancer Society Distinguished Service Award, in 1982 the Hammond Award for excellence in medical journalism, in 1990 the Gold Medal for Distinguished Service to humanity from The National Institute of Social Services, in 1993 the Dwight D. Eisenhower Admirable American Award, in 1994 the Albert Schweitzer World of Humanitarian Award and in 1995 Columbia University’s John Jay Award. 

Beyond all of his academic achievements, Dr. Barber was a physician with thousands of loyal and appreciative patients and families.  He is dearly missed by his friends and colleagues and will be remembered for his many accomplishments.  Dr. Barber leaves behind an inspiring legacy of leadership and selfless devotion to patients. 


Submitted by Thomas A. Lallas, MD
in collaboration with Mary E. D’Alton, MD


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