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  • In Memoriam: Barbara R. Schirmer
  • Cheri Williams (bio)

Barbara Rose Schirmer passed away on February 3, 2023, in Monroe, New Jersey. I count it an honor and privilege to reflect on the professional and personal life of my mentor, colleague, and friend.

At 5’1”, Barbara was small only in stature; her presence loomed large in any setting. The quintessential leader, she was strong and smart, and her commitment to excellence, ethics, and integrity was unrivaled in the profession. Yet, her tenacious spirit belied the kindness, affection, and generosity those of us who knew her well experienced so often.

I met Barbara in the early 1990s at an annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in a session sponsored by the Special Interest Group for Research on the Education of Deaf Persons. After hearing me present a paper on my dissertation, Barbara invited me for “nosh and natter,” to discuss our shared research interests. That was the first of many meals we’d enjoy annually at AERA and the genesis of our mentor-mentee relationship. Over the next 30+ years, Barbara taught me much about what it means to conduct rigorous research and produce meticulous scholarship in the field of deaf education. She invited me to co-present at conferences and co-author publications. I’ve been fortunate to have many mentors and colleagues across my career but none as supportive and generous as Barbara.

Yet, I am not alone in that regard. Barbara touched the lives of many students and colleagues across her 40-year career in higher education through her academic and administrative positions in Oregon, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and New York—literally from one coast to the other. Myriad comments on Facebook and other tributes included in this issue speak to the impact Barbara had on the lives of those with whom she interacted directly, and her professional influence continues through her published works. Decades of scholarship demonstrate the breadth of Barbara’s intellect and interests in a variety of educational topics, including the language and literacy development and instruction of deaf students; psychological, social, and educational dimensions of deafness; evidence-based instructional practices in deaf and special education (repeated reading and guided reading instruction, in particular); preparation of teacher educators in deaf education; research design and methodology; and, more recently, culturally responsive teaching and online instruction in higher education. Barbara’s published scholarship also demonstrates her commitment to mentoring and collaboration: Most of her refereed publications are co-authored. [End Page 121]

Although a serious scholar, Barbara was hardly staid or single-minded, and her smile was contagious! She was a lover of all things Charles Shultz and the Peanut Gang, an avid reader of mystery and thrillers, and she enjoyed film noir. Her chutzpah, dry sense of humor, and droll use of sarcasm put comedians to shame, and I learned early in our friendship to pity the poor soul who called her “Barb” or (worse) “Barbie.” No doubt Barbara’s command of Yiddish adjectives made her maternal grandmother (who was deaf and only spoke Yiddish) proud. Barbara also was a lover of fashion, including an enthusiasm for lapel pins and brooches, and, as an unofficial member of the fashion police, enjoyed discussing red carpet trends (as well as AERA conference attire). I doubt I’ll see a unique brooch without thinking of Barbara and will nostalgically and proudly wear those she gifted me.

Barbara was fiercely devoted to her family, once telling me that her children, Alison and Todd, were her life. She adored her three grandchildren (who called her “Bubbe”), often kvelling over their many accomplishments. Barbara and her husband of 50 years, Jack, met on a blind date while students at the University at Buffalo. They retired in New Jersey to be near their children and grandchildren, but Barbara was loath to retire altogether; she continued her research and scholarship, consulted, taught courses online, and freelanced/edited.

Barbara will be remembered as a scholar whose research and writing made a significant contribution to the field of deaf education. She also will be remembered in the profession as a strong and ethical leader and administrator. And, like many of you reading...