Dr Barbara Stokes — An Appreciation

by Deirdre Spain, Frontline Board Member


Dr Barbara Stokes passed away on 22 March 2009. She will be remembered with respect by all those involved in intellectual disability—whether parents, staff and people with a disability, Dr Barbara touched their lives.

As a young paediatrician Barbara became conscious of the lack of services and supports for children with intellectual disability and their families. In a busy baby ward one day, she heard a colleague who was looking at a baby with Down Syndrome say, ‘Oh, I can’t do anything for him.’ That stirred her to be determined to change things so that babies with disabilities would be treated just like any other child.

She learned about the formation of a new organisation dedicated to the health and welfare of children with intellectual disability and their families—St Michael’s House, which was set up by Patsy Farrell, a mother of a young child with Down Syndrome who believed that people with intellectual disability should have the same educational opportunities as all other children. St Michael’s House opened the first day service in Ireland. Patsy and her committee had clear ideas for the services they wanted to establish, and they needed strong leadership and expertise. They wanted to establish a medical advisory panel and Dr Barbara Stokes was suggested. She not only became a member of the panel, but she hosted its meetings in her home and became chairperson.

In 1961, Dr Stokes helped develop of day services for children with severe to profound intellectual disability. She became a full-time director of St Michael’s House and she shared her knowledge and expertise through her membership in other organizations—the National Association for the Mental Handicapped in Ireland (NAMHI— Inclusion Ireland), Stewart’s Hospital and the Royal College of Surgeons. She served as President of NAMHI, she also received the Person of the Year in 1990- She retired from St Michael’s House in 1987, but continued her valuable work in developing services at Cheeverstown House.

Barbara and her husband Dr Rory O’Hanlon had three children—Andrew, Paul and Denzil. She is survived by her son Andrew, her daughter-in-law Bridgie and her granddaughter Jessie. May she rest in peace.


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