Athens - Phyllis Jenkins Barrow, 89, died peacefully in her home on November 30, 2009, after a lengthy illness.
The embodiment of the true Southern lady, Phyllis Barrow's life was anything but typical. In addition to being the devoted wife and mother of an extended family, she was also a veteran, university professor, community activist and political leader. Most of all, she was noted for her intelligence, dignity and empathy for the needs and concerns of others.
A native of Athens, Phyllis Parker Jenkins was the daughter of John Wilkinson Jenkins and Ruth Parker Jenkins, both of whom worked for the University of Georgia. She was among the last generation of faculty children to actually live and play on the old campus of the University as a child.
She was also among the last students to attend the Lucy Cobb Institute as a young girl, graduating from Athens High School at the age of 15. At 19, she became the first woman to earn a Bachelor of Science in Commerce degree from the University of Georgia (she would have graduated at age 18 had it not been for a bout of malaria she contracted in South Georgia). She later earned her Master's degree in history and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, Mortar Board, Beta Gamma Sigma and Delta Kappa Gamma.
During the Second World War, she answered President Roosevelt's call to service when she became the first University of Georgia graduate to enlist in the Women's Army Corps. She was in the second class of women to graduate from the WAC Officer Candidate School and served in the Pentagon. At war's end, she left the service with the rank of Captain, the same rank as her fiancÈ, James Barrow, also of Athens.
In the years following the war, Barrow was active in the movements that reshaped American life during the 50s and 60s. She was an activist in the movement for greater rights for women, and she was an outspoken and courageous leader in the movement for equal rights for blacks in the still-segregated South.
Among other things, she and her husband co-chaired the Athens chapter of HOPE ("Help Our Public Education"), a statewide organization formed in 1959 to oppose state laws that were designed to close the public schools, including the University of Georgia, rather than submit to integration.
In 1964, University officials asked Mrs. Barrow to teach its course on "Contemporary Georgia," a survey of Georgia history, geography, sociology and political science, a course that her mother had also taught. Mrs. Barrow's course was one of the University's most popular classes, and over the next 24 years, she taught more than 9,000 students.
Mrs. Barrow was a leader in many volunteer public works. For example, she was one of the founders of the Parkview Play School, a daycare center that still serves the children of Parkview public housing project. She was most proud of her success in preventing the center from being closed when the Nixon administration proposed drastic cuts for such programs.
She was also President of the Athens Junior Assembly (now Athens Junior League) and was successful in helping it establish the first blood bank in Athens. She was a personal acquaintance and admirer of Jeannette Rankin and was a longtime member and supporter of the Jeannette Rankin Foundation.
She gave more than 50 years of service to the Athens Salvation Army, including serving as the Salvation Army Advisory Board's first woman chairman. She also worked with the Salvation Army Women's Auxiliary and attended the 1992 international Salvation Army convention in London.
Her community service brought her many awards, including Athens Woman of the Year for 1972, the Martin Luther King Human Relations Award in 1983, the UGA Alumni Society Faculty Service Award in 1990, the Athens ARCH Award for Volunteer Service in 1994 and the Woman of Distinction Award by the Northeast Georgia Girl Scout Council in 2000, among many others.
Throughout all of this time, Mrs. Barrow was very active in the political life of the state and nation. In addition to serving as an active member of the League of Women Voters, she worked tirelessly on behalf of the Democratic Party. Mrs. Barrow served as Chairman of the Clarke County Democratic Committee and of the Democratic Party for the 10th Congressional District, and she was elected to serve as a delegate from Georgia to five National Democratic Conventions. She campaigned in New Hampshire for her friend, Jimmy Carter, during his successful campaign for President in 1976, and she served as a member of the Electoral College from Georgia. In addition, she counted among her best friends some of the leading Republicans of the community.
Mrs. Barrow inherited a love of travel from her parents, who were among the first American scholars allowed to visit the Soviet Union after travel restrictions were lifted in the 30s. She put that love to good use herself at the age of 70, as a participant in the "Georgia to Georgia Friendship Force" exchange program, spending two weeks with her host family in Tbilisi, Ga., when it was still part of the Soviet Union.
She was preceded in death by her parents, her sister, Barbara Jenkins Andreotti; her husband, Superior Court Judge James Barrow; and her grandson, Clute Barrow Nelson.
Survivors include her children, Ruth Barrow Bracewell; and her husband, Mike Bracewell, of Madison, Ga.; Jim Barrow and his wife, Sallyanne, of Stephens, Ga.; Phyllis Barrow Nelson and her husband, Don, of Athens; Tom Barrow and his wife, Kathy, of Athens; John Barrow of Savannah; and Church Barrow Crow and her husband, Hal, of Athens; grandchildren, Jim and Sam Barrow of Stephens; Steven Barrow of Athens; Arthur Nelson of Athens; James and Ruth Barrow of Athens; and Parker, Eleanor, and Michael Crow of Athens; and a great-grandchild, Tyler Michael Hampshire of Lawrenceville.
Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. on Friday, December 4, 2009, at First Baptist Church Athens, 355 Pulaski St., with burial in Oconee Hill Cemetery afterward. The family will receive friends from 5-7 p.m., Thursday, December 3, at Lord & Stephens East, 4355 Lexington Road, Athens.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to the Clute Barrow Nelson Life Foundation, 320 Milledge Heights, Athens, GA 30606; or to the Phyllis Jenkins Barrow Scholarship Fund, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602.
Published in Athens Banner-Herald on Dec. 2, 2009.