In memoriam: William Barr, key contributor to the VCU School of Pharmacy’s rise

Bill Barr
William Barr, an expert in drug absorption research, helped shape the School of Pharmacy’s growth in a four-decade career at VCU. (Courtesy of VCU School of Pharmacy)

William H. Barr, a longtime member of the Virginia Commonwealth University faculty who was a leader in the fight against the opioid epidemic, died Dec. 4 in his home in Topping, Virginia. He was 82.

Barr, Pharm.D., Ph.D., was a former chair and professor of pharmacy and pharmaceutics at the VCU School of Pharmacy and a mentor and adviser to hundreds of graduate students. He was a renowned contributor to the field of pharmacokinetics — the branch of pharmacology concerned with how drugs move within the body — and famously was phoned by the White House in the early 1970s regarding a consultation on a blood clot in then-President Richard Nixon’s leg. Barr also was an expert in drug absorption research.

“Bill Barr’s legacy of research and teaching helped shape our School of Pharmacy in incalculable ways,” said Joseph T. DiPiro, dean of the VCU School of Pharmacy and Archie O. McCalley chair. “His study of the opioid epidemic was prescient as well as important to science and health, and his mentorship built a culture of scientific inquiry and compassionate care. We are deeply honored that he made pharmacy education and pharmaceutical research at MCV and VCU a centerpiece of his life’s work.”

Barr came to VCU in 1972 and over the next 40 years was a key contributor to the pharmacy school’s rise. He was involved in the hiring of many of the school’s most well-known faculty, including Jürgen Venitz, M.D., Ph.D.; H. Thomas Karnes, Ph.D.; Norman Carroll, Pharm.D.; Craig Kirkwood, Pharm.D., and Cynthia Kirkwood, Pharm.D., the latter of whom today serves as the school’s executive associate dean for academic affairs.

In 1988, Barr was named the E. Claiborne Robins Distinguished Professor and Chair. In 2012, at an event announcing the creation of a scholarship in Barr’s name, Donald Brophy, Pharm. D., chair of the Department of Pharmacotherapy & Outcomes Science, called Barr a major architect behind “one of the first, and most respected, postbaccalaureate Pharm.D. programs in the United States.”

Away from his work, Barr was a trumpet player, leader of Swingtime Big Band and a member of the Doctors of Jazz Dixieland Band, performing locally and internationally. He is survived by his wife, Deborah; children, Deborah L. Wingfield, William A. Barr and Suzanne M. Barr; a stepson, Dean Smith; a brother, Chuck Barr; six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

A celebration of Barr’s life will be held Jan. 12, at 11 a.m., in the Smith Building at the VCU School of Pharmacy, 410 N. 12th St. The family suggests memorial contributions be sent to the MCV Foundation in support of the William Barr Graduate Scholarship.

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