Jane E. Barker

Bar Harbor

If you asked Jane Barker where she grew up, the simplest and most accurate answer was “Maine!” The sequential list of locations where Jane and her family lived between her birth in June of 1935 and her 13th year included Bangor, Fort Fairfield, Bangor, Fort Fairfield, West Roxbury (Mass.), Portland, Birch Island, Walpole (Mass.), Portland, Lincolnville, Calais, Casco, Portland and Dover-Foxcroft. The family was not evading the law. Jane’s father worked for Ma Bell as phone service was appearing in Maine and he was transferred to whichever town most needed his services. This brought the family the benefit of fishing, boating and exploring the state, but making and keeping friends was a challenge. After Jane spent two and a half of her first three years of high school in Dover-Foxcroft, Jane’s father was transferred again, but she remained behind with friends for her senior year at Foxcroft Academy, graduating with classmates who remained lifelong friends.

By the summer of 1957, following four years in one place — the University of Maine — Jane had acquired a bachelor’s degree in zoology, more great friends and her first job with The Jackson Laboratory. An investigator at the Lab, Elizabeth “Tibby” Russell, needed to import mice from Europe. The process required the animals undergo quarantine off-site before coming to Bar Harbor. Fortunately for all concerned, the Barker family recently installed indoor plumbing at the family camp on Lake Sebago, so Jane’s father converted the former outhouse into a mouse-breeding facility. Despite misadventures collecting the animals from the Portland jetport, the mice were bred and the importation then completed. That fall, Jane matriculated at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she acquired a master’s degree and experience working in scientific research before moving to the University of Wisconsin for her Ph.D. There she found not only the scientific questions that would motivate her career, but friends who became frequent visitors to MDI, travel companions, and downhill skiing buddies. Jane next accepted a postdoctoral position with Tibby to study programmed changes in red blood cell development, work she continued at The National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. Appointed to the JAX faculty in 1980, Jane returned home to Maine to establish her own research program there. She primarily studied red blood cell structure and the treatment of various diseases via bone marrow transplantation.

Jane was proud to have remained continuously funded through her career. At one point when Jane also served the Lab in an administrative role, grant money was very tight. One of her major duties was to advise scientists struggling to obtain funding on how to improve their grant applications. Some were not pleased to hear her suggestions. However, at the end of her tenure in that position, all 30-plus scientists who tried to obtain grants were funded — and, more importantly, as one of Jane’s colleagues observed, all were still speaking to her!

In her lab group, Jane was blessed with wonderful employees whom she considered her family and talented students whom she thought of as her children. Her students have gone on to careers at renowned research institutions around the country. In addition, like Jane, they serve as reviewers for research grant awards, editors of scientific journals and mentors to the next generation of scientists.

After leading a rather peripatetic life in her 45 years, Jane was pleased to settle in Bar Harbor in the home she and her friend Babette Gwynn had built on the flank of Gorham Mountain. Delighted to hike and to observe wildlife on MDI and around Maine, Jane particularly enjoyed birds. This fascination led Jane and Babette to include birdwatching in trips all over the U.S. and in the UK, Greece, Italy, Ecuador and Costa Rica. The avid planner of these and other hiking adventures, Jane often failed to build in adequate time for travel, getting lost, the appreciation of one’s surroundings, lunch, and normal walking speed. Reading her detailed itineraries could be exhausting in itself.

Being generally of a positive disposition, Jane’s dislikes were few but included discarding anything that might come in handy, having spiders indoors, buying anything at full price, and being on time. She threw herself enthusiastically into yard work including splitting wood and shoveling snow, at which she excelled. In a garden, however, her ability to distinguish the seedlings of flowers from those of weeds never fully developed. She appreciated delphiniums almost as much as the deer did.

With an impish twinkle in her eye and a ready sense of humor, Jane was well known by friends from away for leading “short” hikes in Acadia. She enjoyed fishing, snowshoeing, canoeing, cosmology, camping, mystery novels, cooking, music of many kinds, knitting, jigsaw puzzles, rafting the Colorado (back when it contained water), eating King Paul and Queen Thelma’s fries with vinegar at the Blue Hill Fair while watching sheepdog trials, the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, kayaking, English Springer Spaniels (and every other dog as well), history, Maine high school basketball and a glass of a complex red. A racquetball player into her 60s, Jane frustrated opponents who were decades her junior even in victory. If ever they managed to defeat her, they imagined it was only because she had slowed down a tad. Trips to Snowmass, Colo., for downhill skiing with her graduate school friends and the groups’ de facto leader, Skippy Lane, were a treasured annual adventure. In her 70s and taking blood thinners, Jane was advised against risking a ski injury, so she simply snowshoed up the 12,000-foot mountain while her friends skied down.

After enjoying 41 years as a beloved member of one community, Jane passed away at home on Feb. 9. Her parents, David Emmons and Eleanor (Herrick) Barker, predeceased her, as did her dear friends and colleagues Connie and Ed Birkenmeier. Jane is survived by Babette of Bar Harbor, her cousin Judith Barker Carducci of Hudson, Ohio, the Loring clan of Windham, numerous wonderful friends, neighbors and colleagues and Beignet, a mutt with touch of Springer Spaniel in him whose neck rubs will never be quite the same.

Should you wish to honor Jane’s memory, you may make a donation to The Nature Conservancy in Maine, 14 Maine St., Suite 401, Brunswick, ME 04011 (online at www.tnc.org/Maine scrolling down ½ screen to the “support TNC in Maine” button) OR the American Bird Conservancy, P.O. Box 249, The Plains, VA 20198-2237 (online at www.abcbirds.org), OR simply join a friend for a “short” hike and take a moment to admire the birds.

Arrangements in care of Jordan-Fernald, 1139 Main St., Mount Desert, ME 04660.

Know when to pay your respects.