Barbara Jean Burns, Obituary


Barbara Jean Burns, Ph.D., passed away peacefully on Sunday, January 28, 2024. She enjoyed living at Carol Woods Retirement Community for the past three years following her retirement from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University School of Medicine. Born in Washington, DC, on November 9, 1941, she was very close to her family throughout her life and they shared her love. She was predeceased by a brother, Robert, in 1968, and a sister, Carolene Heart, of Tampa, Florida, in 2015. Loving and caring for each other until the end, she is survived by Maxine Salvatore (and husband, Denny) of Raleigh, NC, and Jennine Hedler of West River, MD. She has three nieces and five nephews with 4 grand-nieces and 6 grand-nephews.

Barbara dedicated her life to improving children’s mental health, and to helping others use their talents and skills to improve the lives of those who are less fortunate. She was a beloved mentor, colleague, and a truly visionary leader in the field of child and family mental health. She mentored literally dozens of aspiring psychologists, social workers, pediatricians, and mental health researchers with tact, grace, warmth, humor, and rigor. Barbara broke the glass ceiling for professional women in academia by example, mentorship, and leadership.

Barbara created the first federal initiatives in children’s mental health services research at the National institute of Mental Health in the late 1980’s. She was Director of the Mental Health Services Effectiveness Research Program at Duke, leading and contributing to the development of innovative treatments for children and families. Over her career she authored over 300 scientific papers, was an investigator on many research grants, and made countless presentations both overseas and in this country. She had the backbone of an empiricist and the heart of an advocate.

Barbara graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1959 in Washington, DC and would say that her “wonderful” journey began immediately after that, because she never had to leave school. She attended the University of Kentucky and spent her junior year at the American University of Beirut, and then attended Columbia University, earning an M.A. After four years of college counseling and teaching in upstate New York, she earned her Ph.D. at Boston College.

Her lifelong dedication and commitment was in working with and on behalf of struggling families. She directed mental health services in an inner city neighborhood health center affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. She then accepted a position as Deputy Director of Services Research at the National Institute of Mental Health just as mental health was becoming a part of the national agenda. She was instrumental in leading the first services research initiatives about children’s mental health at NIMH, where she focused on creating an evidence base on effective services for children and families in the public sector. After 9 years at NIMH, she returned to university life and accepted a position at the University of Maryland Medical School and John Hopkins, where she commuted from her farm in Frederick and cared for 100 animals!

She moved to Duke University in 1989 (as ironically her senior high school yearbook had predicted) as Professor of Medical Psychology and spent the next 35 years in North Carolina. She was awarded the status of Professor Emerita in 2020.

Summer vacations were spent at her Province Lake cottage in New Hampshire where she enjoyed another community and shared her hospitality so generously with family and friends. While maintaining an active professional life throughout her career, she was also an avid and gifted photographer. She also enjoyed listening to classical music, swimming, kayaking, golf, and especially taking walks with her dear Cairn terrier, Mackensie.

Barbara was a member of many organizations and gave generously to a range of worthy causes. Her impact on the world is profound. Donations to honor her memory can be made to the charity of your choice. Arrangements have been made though the Cremation Society of the Carolinas. The family would like to thank the staff of Carol Woods Retirement Center for their care during her time there. A memorial service is planned for March 16, with details to be announced.

As a community service, The Local Reporter publishes obituaries of local residents free of charge. Send to

Share This Article

Scroll down to make a comment.

Be the first to comment on "Barbara Jean Burns, Obituary"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.