Barbara E. Frye #

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Barbara with her wife Bette Perman, Aug. 4, 2017.

Barbara Frye, BSN, RN, died Nov. 21, 2019, after a battle with cancer.

A consum­mate nurse and union leader who believed that nurses must repre­sent nurses, Barbara served on the staff of the Washington State Nurses Associ­a­tion for 20 years, guiding us through the union raids that devas­tated our associ­a­tion and leading us toward a stronger future. In 2016, Barbara was inducted into the Washington State Nurses Hall of Fame in recog­ni­tion of her demon­strated excel­lence, leader­ship, public service, nurse advocacy, heroism and lifelong contributions.

In 2019, WSNA published Barbara’s book, One Strong Voice: The Story of the Labor Movement for Regis­tered Nurses in Washington State,” a three-year project to document the tumul­tuous Raids” against WSNA.

One Strong Voice” was the opus of Barbara’s retire­ment years, and she spent three years examining nearly every The Washington Nurse publi­ca­tion, decades’ worth of minutes from the WSNA Board of Direc­tors and the Cabinet on Economic and General Welfare, hundreds of newslet­ters, legal briefs, newspaper reports and hundreds of documents and transcripts from the National Labor Relations Board and Public Employee Relations Commission.

Barbara joined WSNA as a nurse repre­sen­ta­tive in the WSNA Labor Program in the middle of the union raids. As a nurse rep from 1990 to 1998, and then as director of WSNA’s Labor Program until 2010, Barbara was funda­mental to rebuilding the organi­za­tion, and more impor­tantly, building the power of nurses across Washington state to speak up for themselves and their patients.

Barbara was an Oregon native who gradu­ated summa cum laude with a BSN from Southern Oregon State College. She worked as a staff nurse and charge nurse on med-surg and oncology units, first in Medford and then in Portland. Recog­nized for her leader­ship skills, Barbara was promoted to Nurse Manager of Surgical Special­ties and GYN Oncology at OHSU in 1980, a role she held for seven years before moving to Seattle.Barbara was always active in the Oregon Nurses Associ­a­tion, including serving for six years on the ONA Board of Direc­tors and serving for several years as an ANA Delegate.

It was only natural that when she moved to Seattle, Barbara became involved in WSNA. Barbara first worked at Harborview Medical Center as a nurse manager over several nursing units and then went to Virginia Mason Hospital as a staff nurse in surgical oncology. There, she picked up the union mantle and became active as her local unit griev­ance officer, newsletter editor, chair of the confer­ence committee and Local Unit Chair.

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Barbara Frye with WSNA Nurse Representatives Kathi Landon and Debi Bessmer, April 25, 2005.

When Barbara joined the WSNA staff, she was one of only three Nurse Reps, but this small band of devoted nurse union­ists made a huge differ­ence. As a Nurse Rep and later as Director of Labor Relations, Barbara criss­crossed the state, joining nurses together, devel­oping young leaders and acting as cheer­leader-in-chief” for all nurses. She marched on the picket lines, reasoned in negoti­a­tions, strate­gized to advance the labor program, testi­fied at the legis­la­ture and when needed, initi­ated lawsuits and argued griev­ances before the courts. Whether fighting for fair contracts or sharing her wisdom, Barbara was always there — leading and supporting other nurses.

Barbara also was respon­sible for starting the WSNA Leader­ship Confer­ences held at Lake Chelan. She raised legions of nurses up through the associ­a­tion and union work, fighting for nurses in their local units and joining the WSNA staff to tirelessly advocate for regis­tered nurses and safe patient care across the state.
Throughout, Barbara remained involved at the national level as well, as an American Nurses Associ­a­tion delegate from ONA and WSNA. She was also a founding member of the National Feder­a­tion of Nurses and served as a member of the NFN National Advisory Board.

Techni­cally, Barbara retired from WSNA in 2010, but she didn’t really retire. She merely stepped into different roles — consul­tant, histo­rian, elder stateswoman.

At the time of her so-called retire­ment, Barbara was described as an incred­ible nurse, outstanding labor leader, faithful colleague and true friend. Words used to describe her work included dedica­tion, integrity, truth, justice, perse­ver­ance, teacher, mentor, tireless advocate, inspi­ra­tion, visionary, compas­sion, loyalty, strength and humor.