Donald Henry Barron, MA, MS, PhD

Donald Barron


Donald Henry Barron, MA, MS, PhD, better known as Dr. B. to his colleagues and friends, was born in 1905 in Flandreau, South Dakota. He died in his sleep while hospitalized at the Shands Hospital of the University of Florida on August 24, 1993. Dr. Barron was elected to Honorary Fellowship in the American Gynecologic Society in 1966. He contributed to the career development and therefore to the election of eight Fellows to this Society (one now deceased). In addition many of our Fellows were his friends and colleagues for many years.

Dr. Barron's many academic responsibilities, scientific accomplishments, and honors have been outlined in a number of American and British tributes. I would like to offer a more personal one on his attributes and relationships.

Dr. Barron's life can be divided into four phases: (1) childhood and formal education (1905 to 1930s); (2) postdoctoral education and work with Sir Joseph Barcroft, Professor Adrian and Sir Bryan Matthews in the Physiological Laboratory at Cambridge University, England (1930s to 1940); (3) faculty and administrative appointments in the Department of Physiology, Yale University (1940s to 1960s); and (4) J. Wayne Reitz Professor of Reproductive Biology, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Florida (1970s to 1990s).

Dr. Barron was born into a South Dakota farming family. The harsh winters, the care of farm animals, the one-room schoolhouse education, and the influence of his mother did much to shape Dr. B.'s life. He was very proud that his formal education began in a one-room school, which he thought was in many respects the best possible educational environment for a young student, pointing out that a student not only could learn at his own pace but also could learn from the more advanced students if he listened.

After completion of his undergraduate degree at Carleton College (1928) (where he played baseball and considered this as a possible career) and earning his master's degree at Iowa State College (1929), Dr. Barron started his doctorate degree program at Yale University, where he met his wife of 61 years, Annette,whom he married on finishing his PhD degree in 1932. In that same year he accepted an instructor position in anatomy at the Albany Medical School (1932 to 1933). From 1933 to 1934 he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Berne, Switzerland, and at the University of Cambridge, England.

From 1934 until 1940 Dr. Barron was a research fellow, demonstrator, and lecturer at Cambridge and a fellow of St. John's College from 1937. In 1940 Dr. and Mrs. Barron and their two daughters returned to the United States, and from 1940 to 1943 he was on the faculty of the Department of Zoology at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

In 1945 Dr. Barron returned to Yale and rapidly rose from associate professor to professor of physiology. From 1945 to 1948 he was also the assistant dean of the School of Medicine. He retired from Yale in 1969 to join the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Florida as the J. Wayne Reitz Professor of Reproductive Biology. Harry Prystowsky, then chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, encouraged him even though he was not a clinician to join all ward rounds and teaching sessions. A large fetal physiology laboratory was constructed especially for him and his continuing investigative work. His abilities as a teacher and scientist attracted a group of bright young American and European obstetricians and physiologists to join in these endeavors. Dr. Barron continued his research activities until only a few months before his death.

Dr. Barron's major contributions to reproductive physiology were many, beginning in the early 1930s working with Sir Joseph Bancroft in the Physiological Laboratory, Cambridge, England. His early investigations focused on the central nervous system. Subsequently his interests were placental transfer and fetal metabolism. In his latter years, water metabolism in pregnancy was his greatest interest. The development of the chronic catheter preparation in the pregnant sheep and the goat was the advancement made by him and his associates that subsequently opened up the study of the physiology of pregnancy and specifically the physiology of the uterus and fetus. He was always concerned that studies accurately demonstrated normal physiology, not the reaction of the animal or organ to the trauma imposed by the experimental preparation. In other tributes Dr. Barron has been referred to as "the father of scientific obstetrics," and the "father of fetal-placental physiology."

He was a most persistent student and investigator. The failure of a particular experiment or group of experiments was never obviously discouraging to him -— it always appeared that such failures made him more determined to succeed. He was an exemplary mentor, guiding his students toward the study of questions that became the basis of research careers. It was only later when one was invited to give a scientific paper or participate in a research symposium that the value of his influence was recognized.

A rather simple event that happened to me during my first few weeks in his laboratory in the summer of 1964 has helped guide my relationship with students, residents, and faculty over the years. It occurred on a Saturday morning. We had performed an acute experiment that required sacrificing the sheep at the end of the procedure. The laboratory was a mess. Several of us were working to clean it. Dr. Barron rolled up his sleeves and began to wash the surgical instruments and labware in the nearby sink. I had almost completed my responsibility of sweeping and scrubbing the floor. I told Dr. B. that he should stop because I could "wash up" in a few minutes. He turned and said, "I know you can, Carl, but you should know that I can also." Another comment that Dr. B. made early in my Yale fellowship has remained with me and helped govern my academic career. Apparently he had hoped to be appointed to a major academic administrative position at Yale, a position that he did not get, much to his disappointment. However, not too long after the appointment of another person, he observed that academic administration accomplishments can be undone rapidly, whereas knowledge gained by sound research is permanent and can be built on.

Several of his oft-repeated "sayings" have been adopted by many of us who had the opportunity of working with him: "I'd rather be lucky than good," "Luck is better than skillful planning," "Things must not only be right but look right," "Patience and persistence," "You only have to bat .300 to stay in the majors" (referring to success as an investigator), "Always have an unpublished manuscript in your briefcase so that you can accept last-minute invitations to important meetings," "When addressing a research (or clinical) problem, it's more productive to break it down into its component parts," "There you have it."

Dr. Barron's first love was not his research but his family. He and Mrs. Barron were devoted to each other. In addition to Mrs. Barron, Dr. Barron is survived by a daughter, Annette McCarthy of Pacific Palisades, California, and four grandchildren.

Carlyle Crenshaw

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