Barbara D. Hanrahan-White passed away peacefully on August 18, 2020. The beloved mother and lifelong educator will be remembered for her compassion and her fierce commitment to countless students, teachers, friends, and family members throughout her 92 years.
Barbara was born on December 10, 1927 in Buffalo, New York to Frederick A. and Mary MacKay Dempsey. From an early age Barbara loved to dance and excelled in athletics. Her seemingly endless energy paired with a competitive nature made her a force to be reckoned with on the stage and the field. Beyond her competitive years, dance would be a constant source of joy; she often regaled friends and family with impromptu tap dance routines.
After graduating from Syracuse University in 1949, where she was a member of the Alpha Chi Omega Sorority, Barbara began her career in education as a physical education teacher while continuing to work towards her teaching certificate. Barbara was passionate about health and wellness before those things were trendy. She believed that all children should have access to the resources and encouragement to build healthy lives. In teaching physical education to grades K-12, she had the opportunity to share her passion for exercise with her students.
One evening while Barbara was having dinner with a date at the Cold Creek Inn, attorney Robert J. Hanrahan spotted her from across the room. He would later tell his daughters that he just knew he needed to meet their striking, convivial mother. He boldly introduced himself and the rest is history. Barbara and Robert were married in 1952 in Aurora, NY. Together they had two daughters, Leslie and Clare.
In 1956, Barbara began teaching kindergarten and first grade in Watertown, where she and her family had settled. Over the next decade she kept working towards advanced qualifications, earning a master’s degree and additional certification for administration. Alongside full-time work and going to school herself, she became very active in many organizations, including the Equal Opportunity for Women in Education Council; Affirmative Action/Title 9 for the Watertown City School District; and the Watertown Education Association, where she helped develop a policy handbook that was the first of its kind in New York State. She was recognized by the State University of New York at Potsdam for outstanding contributions to education in Watertown.
The little girl who couldn’t stop dancing never really slowed down as an adult. Barbara was always working hard towards her next accomplishment. Along the way she was guided by a strong moral conviction to be the best she could be for all those she served.
She was a progressive feminist who was always a few steps ahead of her time. Barbara became the principal of Sherman School in 1967, at a time when very few women were appointed to administrative roles. At one point, she was running two additional schools, Massey Street and Meade Street schools. That didn’t stop her from knowing the name of every child and parent. When she transferred to the H. T. Wiley School in 1979, she took charge of even more students. Somehow she still managed to learn all of their names. When Barbara turned 90, the impact she had on her students and teachers over the years was evident in the piles of birthday cards and letters she received.
Barbara was an adoring mother who always made time for her family, despite an ambitious career. She was a phenomenal seamstress and sewed her daughter Clare’s wedding dress. Leslie and Clare remember their mother tending the hundreds of seedling trees she had planted all over their property growing up. Today they’re a forest of maples, blue spruce, and white pine. Barbara and Bob built a warm and inviting home—though it was Bob and Barbara’s mother who the girls depended on for decent meals. Barbara was good at many things, but cooking was never one of them.
In 1987, Barbara took a step back from the responsibilities of principal but continued to support future educators by mentoring student teachers through Potsdam College. She continued to serve on the board of the Northern New York Community Foundation and remained active in the International Women’s Education Society of Delta Kappa Gamma. She was the director of the Northeast Region of the Scottish Clan MacKay and was active at All Soul’s Unitarian Universalist Church.
Robert passed away in 1997, a heartbreaking loss for Barbara after 45 years of marriage. But she endured by staying busy and pursuing her interests. She started golfing and playing bridge in earnest, traveling frequently with friends, and she bought herself one of the very first Priuses which she loved to drive around town.
During this time, Barbara met Roger W. White Sr. through mutual friends, and in him she found a second chance at love. The two were very different, but energetically matched. Their love was sweet and supportive, and her family found much joy in watching Barbara and Roger’s relationship solidify. They were married in August 2000 at the Pine Tree Point Club. From there, they took off in his little red MG with the top down and a heart-shaped wreath pinned to the hood for their honeymoon in Toronto. The two would enjoy nearly 20 years of marriage before Roger passed away earlier this year.
Staying active was always a priority to Barbara; she enjoyed exercise, and it would pay off when she was still able to walk up to ten miles every day at age 86. Her beloved black lab, Bridget, would join her, and later her caretakers from Seniors Helping Seniors and especially her friend, Candy Martin.
Barbara will be remembered for her tireless contributions to students and teachers; for the inspiration she offered to all those who worked with her; for her forward-thinking commitment to equality among all students; and for the endless kindness, empathy, and grace with which she led her schools. She will be remembered as a loving grandmother who sewed the most perfect Halloween costumes, including a particularly well-received batman suit for her favorite grandson.
Barbara is survived by her daughters, Leslie Hanrahan (Dr.James DeCaprio) of Wellesley, Massachusetts, and Clare Smith (Norman) of Watertown, New York; her sister, Louise D. Grifone of Seal Beach, California; and four grandchildren, Mac DeCaprio ( Sheila ), Boston, MA, Ellie DeCaprio, New York, New York, Alexandra Smith, Brooklyn, New York , and Jaclyn Smith, Watertown, New York.
She is predeceased by her first husband, Robert J. Hanrahan; her parents, Frederick A. and Mary (May) Dempsey; her brother, Frederick D. Dempsey; and her second husband, Roger W. White Sr.
Arrangements are with the D.L. Calarco Funeral Home. Due to COVID-19, there will be no calling hours and graveside services will be private. The family has requested that in lieu of flowers donations be made to the Barbara Hanrahan-White Memorial Fund at the Northern New York Community Foundation, 131 Washington Street, Watertown, New York 13601. Online donations may be made at www.nnycf.org attention: Barbara Hanrahan-White Memorial Fund.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Barbara Hanrahan-White, please visit our floral store.
Barbara Hanrahan White Memorial Fund at the NNY Community Foundation
131 Washington St., Watertown NY 13601