Last week, my Grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Barnette (née Lasher) passed away, just 5 days shy of her 94th birthday. For much of my life I knew her formally as Mary Elizabeth Myers (that’s how we addressed our Christmas and birthday thank-you notes), using the last name she acquired from a short second marriage. When my mother and her sisters moved her to an assisted-living facility several years ago, she surprised them by asking to revert to her married name from their father, Kenneth Ashel Barnette, who had passed away when my mother was still in high school. It was something they’d hoped she’d have done decades earlier, but it was all the more touching for her to do so at the outset of her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Friends and family affectionately knew her “Mary Lib”, but to her six grandchildren she was Grandmommy.
Here is a copy of the obituary that ran in The Amherst Bee, a local paper covering the “largest and most populous suburb of Buffalo, New York” where both she and my grandfather were editors in the late 1960s.
Mary Lib Barnette, former Amherst Bee editor
by David F. Sherman
Mary Lib Barnette, 93, a pioneering female journalist and former editor of The Amherst Bee, died Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in Richmond, Indiana.
She was a graduate of the Ohio University School of Journalism, which her father, George Starr Lasher, founded in 1924.
His pamphlet, “Manual of Usage,” became a standard reference text for elementary schools, high schools, colleges and universities, as well as business correspondence.
As an undergraduate, Mrs. Barnette was the first woman to edit the university newspaper. Later, she became the first woman reporter on the staff of Editor and Publisher magazine, a journal first published in 1901.
She was the first woman publicist hired by the retail advertising division of the American Newspaper Publishers Association.
Her husband, Ken, came to The Amherst Bee in late 1967. He succeeded John R. Shearer as editor, who had been granted a leave of absence while running a successful campaign for town clerk.
Ken Barnette had worked for the Buffalo Evening News for 14 years prior to joining The Bee.
Mrs. Barnette was named associate editor of The Amherst Bee in November 1968 after being a staff reporter since the start of the year. She had also worked as a reporter for the Tonawanda News and a copy editor at the Buffalo Courier Express.
“Ken was attracted to The Bee because there were indications it might go to twice weekly or even three times a week because of the university,” Mrs. Barnette said in a 2003 interview.
Less than two months after his appointment, he fell ill with what was first thought to be appendicitis. Mrs. Barnette sat by his bedside, writing out the editorials that he would dictate.
Doctors finally determined he had cancer. He died on Jan. 22, 1969.
Mrs. Barnette served as editor of The Amherst Bee from March 12, 1969, until August 5, 1970.
An active member of the Buffalo Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (formerly Sigma Delta Chi), she served as the chapter’s first female president from 1973-74. Her work on the organization’s scholarship committee and at her alma mater, Ohio University, helped journalism students complete their education.
While in Buffalo, she worked to establish a scholarship honoring her late husband.
She spent 11 years as the director of the College News Service at SUNY Buffalo State where she also edited a history of the university. She worked as the public relations director of the Buffalo Philharmonic from 1976 to 1977.
She next returned to Ohio and chaired a scholarship program for high school writers at Ohio University.
“I was the first college journalism intern at Ohio University, so it means a lot to me,” she said.
While most of the events she covered for The Bee could be considered routine or ordinary, one had a prominent role in the town’s history: the day Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller broke ground for the Amherst Campus of the University at Buffalo.
The newspaper was dated Nov. 6, 1968.
“On a day nearly clear enough to see forever, the State University of New York at Buffalo examined the promise of its future, found it both good and thrilling, and under a benign blue heaven, began moving the earth to make the promise come true,” Mrs. Barnette wrote.
She is survived by three daughters, Elizabeth “Betsey” Alice Bruce, Kathleen Starr Watt and Melanie Anne Caldwell; a sister, Dorothy Siddons (Lasher) Rodgers; and six grandchildren. In addition to her husband, she was preceded in death by a grandson, Jonathan T. Caldwell. Her brain was donated to the Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center.
To sign the online guestbook or to send the family a personal condolence, visit www.urbanwinklerfuneralhome.com.
A memorial service will be held later this year at Ohio University, Athens, Ohio. Donations can be made in her memory at the university’s School of Journalism or a charity of one’s choice.
There was also an obituary posted on the website of the Editor & Publisher, where she was the first woman to work as a reporter and columnist from 1943-1945: Mary Elizabeth Lasher Barnette, First Woman E&P Reporter, Dies at 93.