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.
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.