"Every child can learn. It's about finding out how." - Dr Barbara Stokes
"We rushed in where many would fear to venture. The one essential was to meet and help parents who came not so much for a diagnosis, but for advice about what they should or could do to help their child with a disability living at home." Dr Barbara Stokes, through her work with St. Michael's House was a pioneer in the development of community-based services for children with an intellectual disability.
As a young paediatrician, Barbara became conscious of the lack of services and supports for children with an intellectual disability and their families. She noted that frequently their needs were dismissed. "I was with a doctor one day. We had tended to various children who were being brought in," Barbara recalled, "And one of them was a baby with Down Syndrome and the doctor said â€˜Oh, I can't do anything for him." "It was one of those things that stirs one in life. This baby was entitled to his bottle of medicine just like any other child."
Through her friends Dr Maureen Walsh, Madge Acock and Christo Gore Grimes, Barbara learned about the formation of a new organisation dedicated to the health and welfare of children with an intellectual disability and their families. St. Michael's House was set up by Patsy Farrell, a mother of a young child with Down Syndrome, who believed that her son Brian should have the same educational opportunities as her other children and should be able to stay at home with her. At the time, the organisation had just opened the first day service in Ireland. Although their committee had very clear ideas about the types of services they wanted, they realised they needed strong leadership and expertise and set about establishing a medical advisory panel. Amongst the names suggested was Dr Barbara Stokes. Within a very short time, Barbara was not only on the panel, but was chairing and hosting their meetings in her home on Fitzwilliam Square. Barbara's clarity, dynamism, professionalism was crucial for the implementation of values and ideas and driving the organisation forward. Amongst her many achievements was the development of day services for children with a severe to profound intellectual disability.
In 1961, Barbara was appointed full-time Director of St. Michael's House. Upon her appointment, she said: "I plan to put the organisation in the forefront of the area of mental health rather than in the background, where we could well become overlooked." True to her word, she set out to gain state recognition for St. Michael's House and to secure government funding.
Barbara was a creative and innovative leader. She was very skilled at recruiting enthusiastic staff and encouraged and supported them to learn about the latest developments in the field. She saw intellectual disability as a developmental disability and worked to support the child's development. She believed that every child could learn. It was about finding out how. "She gave parents the confidence and the belief that their child could learn and would say to parents â€˜we can do a lot for your child, with your help.'"
Barbara shared her knowledge and expertise through her involvement and membership in a range of organisations, such as the Royal College of Surgeons, the Commission into Mental Handicap, the National Association of Mental Handicap in Ireland and the Board of Stewarts Hospital. She also supported the development of fledging organisations with similar values as St. Michael's House across the country and spoke at numerous conferences around the world. Her work in the development of services of people with an intellectual disability was acknowledged and recognised, when in 1977, she received a Person of the Year Award and in 1990, she received the Rose Kennedy Award. Barbara retired from St. Michael's House in 1987 to further develop the services in Cheeverstown.
Born in London in 1922, Barbara was married to Dr Rory O'Hanlon with whom she shared a love of sailing. They had three children, Andrew, Paul and Denzil. Sadly, Barbara passed away on March 22nd, 2009. She is survived by her son Andrew, her daughter-in-law Bridgie and her granddaughter Jessica.
Barbara is remembered with respect and affection by all in St. Michael's House. Her inspiration continues to influence the development of services today.
"Barbara was able to translate the values and ideas of St. Michaelâ€™s House. She could make things happen. Her clarity, dynamism and professionalism were crucial in the implication of ideas." Pat Maloney, retired CEO St. Michaelâ€™s House.
"We liked her, we admired her. We respected Barbara for what she wanted to do. She always wanted the best for the children. She was St. Michael's House." Retired colleagues Katie McGing, Head of Social Work Department, Betty Rooney, Head of Unit Kilmacud DDC and Sally Keogh, staff member.
To acknowledge and celebrate Dr Barbara Stokes innovation, creativity and dynamism in developing services for people with intellectual disabilities we plan to establish a Bursary which will be used to support the development of new and innovative services.