Barbara Jean Ligget Starrett, a writer, teacher and Jungian analyst who also excelled at music and painting, died peacefully in the early morning of Saturday, July 10 at her home in Chelsea, Mass., surrounded by her spouse of 39 years, Elizabeth “Jay” Joy Jordan, her daughter Elizabeth, her cherished friend Bill Kelly and her devoted cats Victoria, Georgina, and Nigel.
Despite a difficult, two-year battle with cancer, Barbara never lost her bright spirit and positive outlook. These qualities and her wonderful generosity of spirit enriched the lives of all who knew her. One of her oncologists described her as having “a fierce spirit, with an unparalleled love of life.” Barbara would have been 80 years old on August 20.
Barbara was born on August 20, 1930 in Cincinnati, Ohio, the daughter of Helen Parker and James Ligget. She attended a public exam school for exceptional children whose IQ placed them in the top 0.01 percentile of the general population. While in high school she had one of her paintings hung in the collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and she performed as a guest adolescent conductor of the Cincinnati Philharmonic, conducting Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. She also had a beautiful voice and sang soprano with the Cincinnati Opera Company, but turned down the opportunity to pursue a singing career with a European Opera tour. Barbara felt that painting and music came too easily to her. Instead she was determined to pursue the more intensely creative outlet of writing.
As a young woman, she attended four different colleges — Barnard College in New York, the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, Daniel Baker College in Texas, and the Episcopal Canterbury College in Iowa — to earn an undergraduate degree in philosophy. She said that she was always looking for a school where she could learn new things. She went on to receive a master’s degree in English Literature from Gannon College in Erie, Penn., and a PhD in Comparative Symbolics from the Union Graduate School in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Later as a college professor, Barbara taught undergraduate writing, English literature, mythology, and philosophy at Gannon College and Villa Maria College in Erie, eventually teaching some of the first women’s literature and women’s studies courses in the country. She also taught in The University Without Walls system at Roger Williams College in R.I., at Goddard College Boston, and for the Beacon Graduate School in Boston. She was a beloved professor; her students were drawn to her openness, her great intellectual curiosity and her wonderful ability to really listen.
In 1974, Barbara was the driving force in the founding of the first women’s collaborative bookstore in the U.S., the New Words Bookstore, in Cambridge, Mass., which was “dedicated to a simple mission: To use the power and creativity of words and ideas to strengthen the voice of progressive and marginalized women in society.” She was also a founding member of the New Democratic Coalition and sat on the initial steering committee for thePennsylvania chapter of the National Organization of Women.
She first practiced as a feminist therapist, and later went on to practice as a Jungian psychotherapist for 20 years until her retirement in 1999.
During the 1970s and 1980s, she became very well known, nationally and internationally, as a feminist lecturer, a published poet, and as author of the prose/poetry work, “I Dream in Female: The Metaphors of Evolution,” a meditation on women’s psychology and Jung.
During the 1950s, she was an active civil rights advocate and, at the time, the only white woman to serve as a chapter president for the NAACP. In the 1960s she became a strong activist for peace, and in the 1970s, became a well-known women’s liberation advocate.
She was a lifelong progressive humanist who adhered strongly, as a political philosophy, to the tenants of the Beatitudes: the words of Jesus Christ as written in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. The words and meanings of these passages were very real and important to her. She worked hard to live her life as a good and decent person, and believed in respecting all humanity.
Barbara was a member of the Episcopal Church and sang soprano in a number of church choirs. She loved the words, the ritual, and the spirit of The Book of Common Prayer. She was known to often say, “When everything else fails, hang on to the words; they will get you through anything.” When she confided to one of the Church’s Bishops that as a child she was unable to be an acolyte and as an adult unable to be a priest because she was a woman, he said, “the Episcopal Church had to catch up with you.”
She knew herself well, and lived her life with a great strength of conviction and integrity. She was not one to flaunt her own achievements, and many who thought they knew her, knew only a few of her achievements. She had vast knowledge of many subjects. People would often telephone her with questions on all sorts of topics, which she was very adept at answering, although admittedly, not so much on sports and current entertainment. When she played Trivial Pursuit with friends and family, the others would sometimes join together as one team against her, yet she always won.
While a true intellect and scholar, she was also wonderfully witty and loved to laugh. Her laugh was so infectious that she could cheer and bring great joy to all those around her. She often said that she loved her life, and animals were a big part of that. She had a great love for them, especially all the wonderful cats she shared her life with over the years.
Barbara loved music, but often remarked that she was born a generation too early, since she could not abide the popular music of the 1940s and 1950s. She said that she had just been waiting for the music of the 1960s and 1970s. She also was a great lover of books and read everything from the lightest mysteries to the most complex works. Before she lost most of her eyesight to macular degeneration in the 1990s, she was rarely seen without a book. When she had the freedom to do so, she would get so absorbed in a book at times that she might read for 16 hours straight. When asked which books she would choose if she could have only two, she chose “The Complete Works of Shakespeare” and “The Book of Common Prayer.”
Barbara lived for many years on Martha’s Vineyard, running a very successful practice in Jungian psychotherapy. She was well loved and is very fondly remembered by all who knew her, whether clients or friends. Heather Rynd, a long-time friend from the Vineyard said, “She was a bright and brilliant light, guiding us through the darkness. Barbara filled any room she walked in.” Another friend said of Barbara’s passing, “Elfin in stature, but giant in mind, Babs made us discuss, think, debate, and shamelessly giggle until our sides hurt. You can never be really gone, my dear, because you are indelibly etched into our minds and hearts.”
Barbara is survived by her spouse, Elizabeth Joy Jordan; her son Gregory “Kip” Starrett of Nashville, Tenn.; her three daughters, Maryann Starrett of Arcadia, Fla., Elizabeth Devore of Hagerstown, Md., Susanna Starrett-Tobon of Boston; her four grandchildren, Kathrine Sacramento, Cassandra Starrett, Matthew Starrett, and Parker Tobon; and her much-loved cats, Victoria, Nigel, and Georgina. She was predeceased by her son Michael Starrett.
The Reverend Gareth Evans officiated at the funeral services for Barbara, which were held at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Charlestown, Mass., at 11 am Tuesday, July 13. Expressions of sympathy and remembrance in Barbara’s name may be sent to St. John’s Episcopal Church, 27 Devens St., Charlestown, MA 02129.