Richard Garret George Barry was the first paediatrician appointed outside of Dublin in the Republic of Ireland. He effectively introduced modern paediatric care to a whole region. The outcomes were easy to measure as the results were rapidly falling childhood mortality rates. The mortality rate of babies admitted with gastroenteritis under his care fell from 23 per cent to 4 per cent from 1950 to 1954. The infant mortality rate in the region followed suit.
He was born in Carrigtwohill, Co. Cork and educated in Presentation College, Cork, and by the Benedictines in Douai Abbey, Berkshire. He was interested in family history and traced his own branch of the Barrymores back to the 12th century. He met his wife, Janet Copland, while they were both in paediatric posts in London. Their eldest son Thomas was tragically killed in a road traffic accident soon after qualifying. Their second son William is a consultant paediatrician in Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup.
Dick Barry graduated from University College Cork in 1937, following a distinguished undergraduate career, having won the Charles gold medal in anatomy. During the Second World War he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, and subsequently took up registrar posts in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children in London and Derby Children's hospital. He obtained both his MD and MRCP in 1948, and was elected a Fellow of the College in 1971.
He returned to Cork in 1949. At that time paediatricians were unknown in Cork. Very soon he was visiting physician to the children's wards of the Cork County Home and Hospital, the Erinville Hospital, the Mercy Hospital and the Bon Secours Hospital - in the effect, virtually all the hospitals in Cork.
In 1951 he was made college lecturer in paediatrics, and a year later head of the newly established department of paediatrics in University College Cork (UCC). He was recognized by Cork medical graduates as an outstanding teacher and a great advocate of the needs of children. He was appointed to the first UCC chair of paediatrics in 1970. Thereafter he continued as consultant paediatrician and professor of paediatrics until he retired from the chair in 1979. After retiring from the chair he continued to work in a locum capacity until 1982. Throughout his career and continuing into retirement, he had been a devoted member of St. Anne's Adoption Society. In recognition of this service, he was awarded the Papal Benemerenti medal in 1989.
This brief resume is a poor presentation of Dick Barry's enormous contribution to the health of children in the Munster area. He was effectively a single-handed paediatrician for over a decade. When he commenced practice in 1949, the infant mortality rate was just under 60 per 1,000 live births, and by the time he stopped in 1982, the infant mortality rate had been reduced to nearly 6 per 1,000 live births. He identified gastroenteritis as a major cause of infant mortality, and he devoted much of his professional life to the investigation and management of this common and serious disorder.
In later publications, he drew attention to the paradox of increasing hospital admissions due to gastroenteritis in the 1960s - at a time when the nation's economy and general health were improving. Day care is topical now, but day care was a complete innovation when Dick Barry introduced this for the management of children with diarrhoea in the 1970s.
In the 1980s, after he retired, he became chairman of SHOUT, a charity which aimed to build a paediatric day unit. His support for the principle of day unit services for children was unstinting and even more important, he lent credibility, which would otherwise have been very difficult to achieve. The first purpose-built children's day unit in Ireland was opened in 1991 and named after Professor Barry.
Dick Barry was above all a gentleman. His gracious style endeared him to students, parents and children alike. His reserved manner hid a mischievous sense of humour. The only hint of inner steel came when he was challenged on the needs of children and paediatrics. In the early days when paediatrics was not on par with medicine and surgery in the final medical examination, students quickly learned that paediatrics had to be taken seriously.
Peter J Kearney