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Jane Barr: Loving wife and mother, Latin scholar

Jane Barr, a longtime resident of the Mt. San Antonio Gardens retirement community in Claremont, died on August 7, 2016. She was 89.

She was born February 18, 1927 in Perth, Scotland to James and Catherine Hepburn. Dux (i.e., “top pupil”) of her graduating class in Perth Academy, Jane went on to study classics at Edinburgh University. She met her future husband, James Barr, on the first day of the academic year in 1945. They received their master’s degrees in 1948 and married two years later.

From the early 1950s on, she accompanied Mr. Barr as he moved through a succession of professorships in Great Britain and North America, including the posts of Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford University (1978-89) and Professor of Hebrew Bible at Vanderbilt University (1989-98).

During their long and happy marriage and amid frequent changes of residence she played a vital supporting role in her husband’s career, reading early drafts of his work and discussing ideas, hosting social gatherings, attending events, and sharing fully in his professional life.

For some years, child-raising and homemaking responsibilities led Mrs. Barr to set aside her own academic ambitions, although she taught Latin and Greek at various levels as time allowed. In her 50s, however, she returned to classical scholarship with new energy and published several studies of St. Jerome’s translation of the Hebrew Bible, including a widely cited article, “The Influence of Saint Jerome on Medieval Attitudes to Women.” She also surprised her husband by contributing to his festschrift volume a chapter on “Luis de León and the Song of Songs.” During the Barrs’ stay in Nashville, she held an appointment as lecturer in church history at Vanderbilt and taught two popular seminars, on Women and Church in Society to 500 CE and Women and Church in Society from 500 to 1400. Wherever they spent time, she formed warm and lasting friendships and was cherished and admired by neighbors, colleagues and students.

In 1998, the Barrs retired to Claremont, where they continued an active intellectual and social life until James suffered a serious accident at a conference in Philadelphia that precipitated his death in 2006. In her final years, Jane lived quietly and happily at Mt. San Antonio Gardens, leaving the California sunshine and her cat, Cindy, only for 10 days in the fall of 2011, when she made a special journey back to Britain to visit family and friends in London, Oxford, Edinburgh and Pitlochry.

Mrs. Barr is survived by her three children, Catherine of Gilbertsville, New York, Allan of Claremont, and Stephen of London; by her daughters-in-law Xiaohua Peng and Susan Worsey; and by her beloved granddaughter Olaya and her grandsons Adam, Alexander, Theo and Marcus, to whom she was equally devoted.

A memorial service will be held on Friday, September 9 at 2 p.m. in the gallery of Mt. San Antonio Gardens’ Social Center. Private interment will take place later this year at Christ Church, Oxford. Donations, if desired, may be made to Oxfam America or to Mt. San Antonio Gardens.