In Memoriam: Barbara H. Stanley, PhD

The research ethics community suffered an enormous loss on January 25 with the passing of Barbara H. Stanley, PhD. Barbara was a hugely influential researcher and beloved PRIM&R Board alumna. She was a research pioneer, an incredible mentor, and a remarkable person. She will be greatly missed.   
Barbara served on PRIM&R’s Board of Directors for more than three decades, starting in 1984. During that time, she recognized that the burgeoning community of IRB and IACUC professionals needed an organizational home: she co-founded with Natasha Reatig, the Applied Research Ethics National Association (ARENA), which remained PRIM&R’s membership organization from 1985 to 2005.   

Barbara’s contributions to the fields of suicide studies and research ethics cannot be overstated. She was Professor of Medical Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University and Director of the Suicide Prevention Training, Implementation and Evaluation program at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. She was known for embracing a multi- disciplinary approach in her research, which focused on all aspects of suicidal behavior, non-suicidal self-injury, and borderline personality disorder.   

She oversaw the development of suicide prevention training for clinicians throughout New York and, with her colleague, Gregory Brown, developed the Safety Planning Intervention that is used by the US Department of Veterans Affairs and on crisis hotlines across the United States. In addition, over the course of her distinguished career, Barbara chaired and served on many expert committees and advisory boards, consulted in several capacities for the NIH, served on journal editorial boards, received numerous federal grants, authored more than 200 publications, and received several awards for her research and leadership in biomedical,  behavioral, as well as research ethic field.  

In 2005, Barbara received PRIM&R’s Founders Award, which recognized the notable achievements of four individuals who played critical roles in the founding of both PRIM&R and ARENA. In 2016, she was named a Distinguished Leader of PRIM&R to acknowledge her sustained contributions as a member of the Board of Directors for over 10 years. In 2021, Barbara became a Pillar of PRIM&R, a designation which recognizes 13 individuals who were integral to PRIM&R’s founding and early growth, and who provided exemplary service and uncommon commitment to PRIM&R’s values and mission during the organization’s formative years.  

To honor the contributions of our Pillars,  we set up the Pillars of PRIM&R Fund in their name. The Fund, in turn, supports our Pillars of PRIM&R Outstanding Poster Award, which recognizes excellent projects designed to improve human research protections programs or animal care and use programs, through better education, tools, procedures, or practices, or which contribute to empirical research or scholarship in the research ethics field.    

We welcome donations in Barbara’s name to the Pillar of PRIM&R Fund, to support those who will continue Barbara’s legacy of excellence and service. 

Our condolences go out to Barbara’s family and loved ones.  

You can read Dr. Stanley’s obituary here (NYT). Below, we have gathered words from a few members of our PRIM&R community who knew Barbara well. We welcome your own memories and kind words about Barbara in the comments below.  

Barbara had many extraordinary qualities, including her brilliance, vision, delight in mentoring others, compassion, wisdom, ability to bridge divides, integrity, superhuman productivity (she received and worked on several grants in 2022 while undergoing chemo), and her trail breaking, life-changing contributions to several areas of psychological research.   

I’ve been unable to put my feelings into writing until now because the loss is so raw. In the long loop replaying in my mind, I’ve been revisiting memories, reading old letters and emails, looking at photos of our almost 45 year friendship, and giving gratitude for Barbara’s too short, but purpose-filled and high impact, life.  

My relationship with Barbara began but, thankfully, did not end with PRIM&R. I first met her when she was a twenty-something working at Wayne State after marrying her New Jersey high school sweetheart. Barbara and Mike were a couple for the ages—think Springsteen, think the Curies, think fun, wise, and relaxed parents, think soulmates, and think heartbreak when Mike died of a heart attack 30 years ago. Barbara then raised Melissa and Tom with equal parts grace, grit, unconditional love, encouragement, and support  while continuing to work in a high- powered/ high- stakes field.  

Thank her—however posthumously—for her advice and counsel that helped me through many difficult organizational logjams. Barbara’s steady and level-headed guidance was a much needed and appreciated counterpoint to my often strident approach to life and work. For the record, Barbara first became involved with PRIM&R through the work that she and Natasha were doing to simplify consent forms for those with mental health disorders and developmental disabilities. She was committed to helping the most vulnerable from the outset of her career and that commitment never wavered.  

Oh what a legacy you have left in so many corners of this earth. You have literally and figuratively saved lives. Your professional life combined the highest levels of achievement with the deepest stores of compassion for those most marginalized. And on a personal level, you brought your family through tragedy, had the gift of forging deep, enduring friendships, and the ability to laugh, love, and enjoy life.   

You made a very big difference in so many of our lives.  
Joan Rachlin, JD, MPH | Executive Director Emerita at PRIM&R   

It was a great pleasure to serve on the Board with her and come to know her as a person. She will be greatly missed by her many friends and colleagues at PRIM&R, Columbia, and elsewhere, and her legacy includes the countless people whose lives were improved and, indeed, saved by her research and scholarship.  

Alex Capron | University Professor Emeritus, Scott H. Bice Chair Emeritus in Healthcare Law, Policy and Ethics, and Professor Emeritus of Law and Medicine at the University of Southern California 

In my early days of my association with PRIM&R, I was a huge Barbara admirer. I didn’t get to know her as well as others, I’m sure, but she was fearless and driven by the force of right. She will be missed indeed.  

Barbara E. Bierer, MD | Faculty Director of the Multi-Regional Clinical Trials Center of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard (MRCT Center); Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital 

I am so sorry to hear this news. I fondly remember Barbara for her deep commitment to PRIM&R and its mission. She was one of the visionaries who recognized the role for the organization that became ARENA and to its successful integration of PRIM&R years later. During my own early years with PRIM&R, I recall long and passionate discussions with colleagues who identified with and wanted to preserve ARENA, and doubt that the organizations could have so successfully integrated had it not been for Barbara’s active participation and negotiating skills. Outside of PRIM&R, she made major contributions to the relatively neglected field of suicide research. She leaves a remarkable professional legacy and so many colleagues and friends who will miss her and I add my deepest condolences.  

Walter Straus, M.D., MPH | Vice President of Safety and Pharmacovigilance at Moderna  

We need only add our own agreements about how meaningful Barbara’s contributions have been to us personally, which, in my case, they certainly were, too. But look, now, at this additional contribution … bringing us all together in bittersweet reflection, and re-connection. Thanks for that, too, Barbara. And fond thoughts to you all.  

Hugh Tilson, JD, MPH, MD, DrPH |Director of the North Carolina Area Health Education Centers (NC AHEC) Program, Associate Dean and Assistant Professor in Family Medicine at the UNC School of Medicine 

I also want to celebrate the wisdom that Barbara and the other founders had in molding PRIM&R and ARENA in such a way that not only allowed but fostered the development of a new community.  All of us on this email train are a part of, and have benefited from that community. Thank you, Barbara. 

P. Pearl O’Rourke, MD | Retired; former Director of Human Research Affairs at Partners HealthCare Systems

I’m so sad to hear this news. I was privileged to serve with her on PRIM&R and participate on panels with her as a fellow psychologist. Such a pioneer!! Hugs & prayers to her family and all who knew her.   

Cynthia A. Gómez, EdM, PhD | Professor Emerita and Founding Director of Health Equity Institute, San Francisco State University 

Barbara helped set the stage for the professionalization of the IRB field through her support of ARENA.   

David Borasky, MPH, CIP | Vice President & IRB Compliance, WCG  

Echoing sadness about Barbara’s loss and much gratitude for who she was and all she did.   

Christine Grady, MSN, PhD | Chief of the Department of Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center 

Barbara was a woman of intelligence, wisdom and caring who overcame a supremely tragic loss with dignity and courage and made a most successful life for herself and her children.  She was a woman everyone wanted to know and emulate, myself included.  At a time when people of her integrity, compassion and skills are desperately needed, she is gone.   

Paula Knudson | retired special advisor for human subject research and faculty in the Center for Clinical Research and Evidence Based Medicine at the University of Texas health Science Center Houston (UTHSCH) 

As a suicide researcher, I know well Barbara’s contributions and the loss we all will endure in that area. What a loss to the world in terms of the person that she was and how giving of herself to others and her ability to be present at such difficult times.   

She leaves a legacy for many to step up and emulate.   

Vickie Mays, PhD, MSPH | Professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Letters and Sciences; Professor in the Department of Health Services; Director of the UCLA Center on Research, Education, Training and Strategic Communication on Minority Health Disparities 

I remember how excited she was to share the beginnings of ARENA with me when I first joined the board.   

Tanise Jackson, DVM, DACLAM, CPIA | Director, Animal Welfare Research Integrity at Florida A&M University 

As a new professional in the IRB world, I always looked up to Barbara.  I often felt her efforts  paved the way for recognizing IRB work as a profession. I also remember heated discussions at the PRIM&R Board when she would speak up  with reason and always trying to pull the different points of view together. She would have remarkable  ways of stating what she perceived as the differing points of view and, as a result, it made it easier to understand the issue being debated. I admire her professional life and her dedication to suicide prevention. What a loss for those whose lives she touched .  

Susan Kornetsky, MPH | Director of Clinical Research Compliance at Boston Children’s Hospital 

Through her work founding ARENA, Barbara helped begin the professionalization of the field of research ethics administration. This laid the groundwork for establishment of Certified IRB Professionals. What a privilege to observe and participate during this time!  

Sue Fish, PharmD, MPH | Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health 

Very sad news indeed to learn of the loss of one of our valued and most valuable members of our several communities.  I write not just as a grieving PRIM&R and ARENA member, but as one who had highest regard for my co-member of the department of Psychiatry at Columbia Medical School.  She was a favored friend, colleague, and often mentor.  While horrible to have to say goodbye to Barbara, her accomplishments and enduring legacy of all she gave to research ethics will live on.  So, Barbara, may you find some much deserved rest, in peace.  I personally will remember and miss you forever.  

Ruth L. Fischbach, PhD, MPE | Professor of Bioethics, Columbia University 

 I was also fortunate enough to serve on the board with Barbara. She was a great mentor to me.  And I love her.  She will be missed by many!  

Marky Pitts | Co-Founder and Faculty, Essentials of IACUC Administration  

She was a warm and dedicated human being with strong values  

Hy’sxwqe Siam Barbara! (Thank you, respected teacher and leader, Barbara!)  

William L. Freeman, MD, MPH, CIP | Program Director, Center for Health; Human Protections Administrator at the Northwest Indian College Institutional Review Board