William Barber (Photo courtesy of Wesleyan’s Special Collections and Archives)
William J. Barber, the Andrews Professor of Economics, Emeritus, died Oct. 26 at the age of 91. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m., Jan. 28 in Memorial Chapel with a reception to follow in Daniel Family Commons.
Barber arrived at Wesleyan in 1957 after receiving his BA from Harvard University and completing a Rhodes Scholarship and earning a BA, MA and Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University. He taught at Wesleyan for 37 years before retiring in 1994. Barber was actively engaged in the leadership of the University throughout his time at Wesleyan. He was a founding member of the College of Social Studies, served as chair of the economics department and faculty secretary, and was appointed by the Board of Trustees as Acting President for three months in 1988 until President Chace assumed the office.
Barber was a productive scholar who published widely, including A History of Economic Thought, which after its release in 1967 became a standard in the field of economics for decades and was translated into seven languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Swedish and Farsi (Persian). He published 11 other books as author or editor, and hundreds of articles on economic trends and developments in the United States, Africa, Britain, Europe, India and other areas of Asia. He was the recipient of many honors and awards throughout his distinguished career, including the George Webb-Medley Prize in Economics from Oxford in 1950 and a Ford Foundation Foreign Area Fellowship for study in Africa from 1955-57, and he was twice appointed a research associate of the Brookings Institution. In 2002 he was honored as a Distinguished Fellow of the History of Economics Society and in 2005 received a Honorary Doctor of Letters from Wesleyan. Barber served as the American Secretary for the Rhodes Scholarship Trust from 1970 to 1980; during this tenure he was instrumental in opening the Rhodes Scholarship to women and his service to the Trust was recognized by the British Government through his appointment as an honorary member of the Order of the British Empire.
On Nov. 23, Barber was featured in a Hartford Courant article titled “Extraordinary Life: Economist Made A Career At Wesleyan.”
“Bill Barber was an academic who ‘came alive’ in the classroom, and whose major work on the history of economic thought was translated into more than a half dozen languages. He was an economist in the traditional sense: his approach was not quantitative but drew from many disciplines,” wrote author Anne M. Hamilton in the Courant article.
Barber’s friend, Richard Miller, said, “Bill was a valued friend and colleague for over half a century. He provided guidance, counsel, and support to me and to many others. The economics department and the University have been immeasurably stronger for his contributions and his leadership.”
Born a Midwesterner and having survived World War II as an infantry soldier, Barber found in Wesleyan his intellectual and emotional home. He loved the classroom as well as the intellectual freedom that the University offered. He was devoted to his family and is survived by his wife, Sheila, who herself has long been an active member of the Wesleyan community, and his sons, Charles, John, and Tom, their wives, and six grandchildren.
Memorial contributions in Bill Barber’s name may be made to Middlesex Hospital Hospice and Palliative Care at 28 Crescent Street, Middletown, CT 06457.