Adrienne Barnwell was passionate about helping children with complex, rare and traumatic medical problems, and spent four decades doing so in the Twin Cities. A pediatric psychologist, Barnwell had a clinical practice, coached interns and worked closely with other professionals to help kids and their families coping with cerebral palsy, epilepsy, spina bifida and other serious conditions.
Barnwell, 79, died peacefully at her Minneapolis home on Sept. 5.
“She helped hundreds of kids,” said Frank Barnwell, her husband of 58 years. “Each of these kids brought unique problems, and her commitment was using her resources and experience to give them the best care she could.”
That involved teaming with medical, psychological and social services staff to create a customized package to help each family, he said.
Barnwell grew up in Lake Forest, Ill., and attended Vassar College and DePauw University before graduating from Northwestern University.
There she met and married Frank and earned a Ph.D. in clinical child psychology before moving to Minneapolis in 1970 to begin a 40-year career.
She started as director of pediatric psychology at Regions Hospital and then became lead psychologist and manager of the Department of Child and Family Services at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul.
Helen O’Brien, lead staff chaplain for Gillette Children’s who worked with Barnwell for 20 years, said she was a quiet and introspective woman, with extraordinary professional skills and leadership abilities.
“She was enormously intelligent, incredibly observant and she just had a huge heart,” O’Brien said. “I remember her great compassion and her steadfastness, her ability to help steady people up who are working in situations that involve crisis and trauma.”
Another longtime friend and colleague was Arden Gausman, who said Barnwell had a wonderful sense of humor and got along well with those who worked under her leadership. “She was close to her staff, and she made it seem like we were family,” Gausman said. “It was just a pleasure to work with her.”
Barnwell’s daughter, Elizabeth, said her mother was creative and artistic and had a keen sense of aesthetics in the stylish way she dressed, the flower gardens she kept and the art museums she enjoyed.
She was also an adventurous person who traveled widely with family, Elizabeth said, and observed different cultures in a nonjudgmental way.
“We went into some very impoverished countries, and yet she always taught me to look for the things that were beautiful and unique and different from home but not to dwell on the things that were scary or icky or things that I didn’t understand.”
Elizabeth said her mother was successful with people in both her professional and personal life.
“She had a sense of empathy for each person, wherever they are,” she said. “That was always her springboard for dealing with others.”
Frank Barnwell said his wife also loved to immerse herself in nature, whether it was walking around the lakes in Minneapolis, enjoying a family cabin in Wisconsin or traveling to tropical countries to visit gardens and swim among fish in coral reefs.
Barnwell is survived by Frank, Elizabeth and two grandchildren.
A service will be held at the Memorial Chapel of Lakewood Cemetery, 3600 Hennepin Av. S., in Minneapolis, at 2 p.m. on Sept. 22 with a visitation at 1:30 p.m.
Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388