It is with heavy hearts that we mourn the passing of Barbara Frye today, Thursday, November 21.
A consummate nurse and union leader, who believed that nurses must represent nurses, Barbara served on the staff of the Washington State Nurses Association for 20 years, guiding us through the union raids that devastated our association and leading us toward a stronger future. In 2016, Barbara was inducted in the Washington State Nurses Hall of Fame in recognition of her demonstrated excellence, leadership, public service, nurse advocacy, heroism and lifelong contributions.
This year saw the publication of Barbara’s book, “One Strong Voice: The Story of the Labor Movement for Registered Nurses in Washington State,” a five-year project to document the tumultuous “Raids” against WSNA. As she describes in the introduction to the book:
This project was conceived one day when Judy Huntington and I were talking, and we realized that the story of “The Raids” had never been memorialized in writing. The stories had been passed on orally, one nurse to another, through the years. “Telling the stories” is part of the culture of WSNA, and of nursing and women, and we realized that those of us who remember those times and who can tell the story of The Raids are getting older; memories are beginning to fade. It was startling to realize that younger nurses don’t know what “The Raids” refer to. We both felt it was important to document the events, the facts, feelings and observations, through the lens of those who experienced those events. This period was a defining time for WSNA, and the organization must to be able to look back in history and learn from our mistakes if we are not to repeat them.
“One Strong Voice” was the opus of Barbara’s retirement years, and she spent three years examining nearly every The Washington Nurse publication, decades’ worth of minutes from the WSNA Board of Directors and the Cabinet on Economic and General Welfare, hundreds of newsletters, legal briefs, newspaper reports, and hundreds of documents and transcripts from the National Labor Relations Board and Public Employee Relations Commission.
Technically, Barbara retired from WSNA in 2010, but she didn’t really retire. She merely stepped into different roles – consultant, historian, elder stateswoman.
Barbara joined WSNA as a Nurse Representative in the WSNA labor program in the middle of the union raids that tested WSNA’s strength and relevance – and that ultimately made us stronger. As a Nurse Rep from 1990 to 1998, then as Director of WSNA’s Labor Program until 2010, Barbara was fundamental to rebuilding the organization and, more importantly, building the power of nurses across Washington state to speak up for themselves and their patients.
Barbara was an Oregon native who graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BSN from Southern Oregon State College. She worked as a staff nurse and charge nurse on med-surg and oncology units, first in Medford and then in Portland. Recognized for her leadership skills, Barbara was promoted to Nurse Manager of Surgical Specialties & GYN Oncology at OHSU in 1980, a role she held for seven years before moving to Seattle. Barbara was always active in the Oregon Nurses Association, including serving for six years on the ONA Board of Directors and serving for several years as an ANA Delegate.
It was only natural that when she moved to Seattle, Barbara became involved in WSNA. Barbara first worked at Harborview Medical Center as a nurse manager over several nursing units and then went to Virginia Mason Hospital as a staff nurse in Surgical Oncology. There, she picked up the union mantle and became active as her local unit grievance officer, newsletter editor, chair of the conference committee and Local Unit Chair.
When Barbara joined the WSNA staff, she was one of only three Nurse Reps, but this small band of devoted nurse unionists made a huge difference. As a Nurse Rep and later as Director of the Labor Program, Barbara crisscrossed the state, joining nurses together, developing young leaders and acting as “cheerleader-in-chief” for all nurses. She marched on the picket lines, reasoned in negotiations, strategized to advance the labor program, testified at the legislature and, when needed, initiated lawsuits and argued grievances before the courts. Whether fighting for fair contracts or sharing her wisdom, Barbara was always there - leading and supporting other nurses.
Barbara also was responsible for starting the WSNA Leadership Conferences held at Lake Chelan. She raised legions of nurses up through the association and union work, fighting for nurses in their local units and joining the WSNA staff to tirelessly advocate for registered nurses and safe patient care across the state.
Throughout, Barbara has remained involved at the national level as well, not only as an ANA delegate from both ONA and WSNA. She also was a founding member of the National Federation of Nurses and served as a member of the NFN National Advisory Board.
At the time of her so-called retirement, Barbara was described as an incredible nurse, outstanding labor leader, faithful colleague and true friend. Words used to describe her work included: dedication, integrity, truth, justice, perseverance, teacher, mentor, tireless advocate, inspiration, visionary, compassion, loyalty, strength and humor.