On Sept. 4, a woman whose diminutive size and voice gave her the nickname “Squeak” as a child, passed away after a life of dedication to the people of South Kingstown, both as a nurse and public servant. Barbara Anne Hackey, a lifetime resident of the town and from a family dating back many generations, gave much more than she took.
The daughter of Robert and Emma (Tourgee) Bristow, Barbara was fond of telling local school children that she grew up in the Washington County Jail as her father served a high sheriff in late 1930s. After graduating from South Kingstown High School she left town for the only time in her life to attend St. Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing in Providence. In 1952, she began a long career as a nurse at South County Hospital where she worked either full or part time until 1987 when she retired as Director of Surgical Services.
Beginning in the 1970s, Barbara’s work as nurse was complimented by a different type of public service: local politics. Having attended Democratic Party meetings and rallies with her father Bob Bristow since childhood, she was already familiar with political processes. She was the first woman to serve on the Zoning Board of Review in 1974. In 1977, she was the first woman elected as the town moderator, managing the often-tumultuous financial town meeting with wit and humor for the next 10 years.
In 1987, as Democratic Party town chairman, I personally had the joy of seeing Barbara decide to run for Town Council. She was the top vote-getter but declined the council presidency in favor of Harold “Cap” Smith who had been re-elected to office. She told me, “I don’t want the job until I know what I’m doing”. She then served as president and vice-president until 2004, when she chose not to seek re-election. She was then elected town moderator once more.
Barbara has been a devout Catholic, serving in many roles at St Mary’s Star of the Sea Parish. She was first married to John Carr, a physician, which led to divorce after a short time. She applied for and was eventually granted an annulment to the RCC after 23 years. She told me that she went to the church chancery weekly for most of the time.
Barbara raised her son Robert, now a professor at Providence College, after the death of her husband, Fred Hackey in 1979. She returned to school full time to earn her bachelor’s degree in political science from URI. Over the years she found time to appear in multiple shows sponsored by the South County Players, the Jonnycake Review, and South County Hospital. She served on several local boards, including Peace Dale Estates and Seniors Helping Others. During recent years Barbara devoted herself to her son Robert and his wife Tacy and her granddaughters, Meagan, now in grad school and Sarah, in college in Boston.
Of the many achievements Barbara Anne Bristow Hackey has accomplished I would like single out something the people of our town can view with pride: the Senior Center! I can state without hesitation that during her years on the council she diligently and doggedly fought for a place for our senior citizens to meet their social and recreation service needs. At the outset of her drive for a place for seniors no one particularly wanted it. Barbara’s fervent politicking got it DONE!
Personally, I am well aware that our town does not name its public buildings but in this case she put the building up “brick by brick.” It is my hope that the Town Council considers naming the center after Barbara Ann Hackey.
John Patrick Shanley