YWCA Tribute: Patricia Barry Rose Above To Lift Others
By Michele DeLuca
Patricia Barry makes life look easy these days, retired, happily married to a man she knew from high school and surrounded by a large, extended family.
Her life in years prior was a constant challenge. That’s why she has always worked so hard to reach out and help others, especially women.
Barry is this year’s winner of the YWCA of the Niagara Frontier’s Lifetime Achievement Award, which will be presented during the YWCA’s annual Tribute to Women dinner Tuesday in Niagara Falls. When she was first told of the honor, Barry humbly wondered why she was selected.
“I was thinking that there’s so many more worthy people. Then I started listing the things I’ve done and I thought, yeah, OK, I’ve done a couple things,” she said in jest, before admitting to being overwhelmed by the award.
Prior to these days, every bit of Barry’s life posed challenges that might have stalled or stopped a different woman.
When she was 18 months old, her mom was diagnosed with tuberculosis, placed in a sanatorium and didn’t come home until Patricia was in fourth grade.
As an adult, Barry had two challenging marriages, each ending in divorce, and both of her children and a grandchild died far too young. Her daughter Jennifer was 23 when she died in her sleep for reasons never determined. Her son John’s son, Benjamin, died at 4 years old due to a disease of the mitochondria. Then John died four years ago on Christmas Eve, of causes she was never able to learn. Just prior to John’s death, Barry’s beloved sister, Maureen, died of cancer.
It was a lot. But Barry carried on.
“People have asked me, ‘How do you go on?’ You just have to make up your mind that ‘I’m going to,’” she said.
Perseverance has been a theme in Barry’s life. But she has also felt the blessing of good fortune.
When she started her banking career, she said, someone gave her good advice.
“They said if you’re going to work for any bank, you have to work for Lockport Savings.”
She took that advice and was hired as a bank teller by then-vice president Norman Sinclair, who later became bank president and always stressed the importance of service. He gave her many opportunities to be involved in the community, she said.
Barry went back to school for a “Women in Business” degree at Bryant and Stratton College, and when she graduated in 1984 she was named “Outstanding Graduate.”
Banking wasn’t an easy career path, however, especially for a woman.
“Back then it was so different,” she explained. “I can’t tell you how many times in a meeting, I would propose something and no one would say anything. Twenty minutes later a man would suggest the same thing and everyone would say, ‘Great idea.’”
Barry rose regardless. “I was very lucky,” she said. “I was there for 32 years and retired in 2005 as senior vice president of customer and community affairs.”
During her career, she made a point to help women. “I didn’t want anybody else to have it as hard as I had it in the beginning,” she said. The door to her office was always open and she kept chocolate-covered peppermints in a jar for anyone who needed a pick-me-up.
“She was an example of what I aspired to and she set the bar very high,” her friend Marsha Koelmel said. The two met several decades ago at Lockport Savings Bank and remain close friends to this day.
“She was so devoted to quality in everything she did,” explained Koelmel, who now is co-president of Catapult Executive Counseling.
But more than that, “she’s just a tremendous friend,” Koelmel added, noting “She cares about what you care about, she thinks about you, she reaches out. and she’s fun. Oh, she’s so much fun.”
Despite being “fun,” Barry took her role as mentor seriously, according to longtime friend Mary Nassoly, who nominated her for the Lifetime Achievement award. “She is a cheerleader to those working to improve themselves.”
Barry said her advice to women was simple: “I would tell women they have to be consistent in their performance. You can’t do a bang-up job on Tuesday and take Thursday and Friday off because you don’t feel well.”
She also taught women to be respectful of everyone in the workplace. She recalled that, as a child, she was raised to treat the janitor the same way she treated the principal. “That was so important,” she said.
During her career, Barry worked on a variety of non-profit boards including the YWCA and Kids Escaping Drugs, two organizations that impressed her the most.
“We were saving lives,” she said of Kids Escaping Drugs, recounting the compassionate leadership provided by Joan Hudecki and Dick Gallagher.
On the YWCA board, which Barry served for more than a decade, even she was surprised by all the services provided, including domestic violence prevention and rape crisis and counseling programs, along with many other family life enhancement programs.
“People would say to me, ‘ I had no idea they did that,’” she said of the Y, adding, “They need to do a better job of bragging.”
Barry is retired now, and thanks to a chance meeting with an old friend, Chuck Secord, at a Lockport Senior High School 40-year class reunion, she is happily married and surrounded by her husband’s large extended family.
“I’m a grandmother of 12 and a great-grandmother of two as a result of our combined families,” she said. “I love every minute of it.”
Photo Source: Michele DeLuca / contributor