Word has recently been received that Barbara (Barb) Peters Winn, American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (ABFMS) alumna, passed away last year at the age of 92 on January 14, 2020 in Martinsville, Virginia. She was born on June 28, 1927 in Rochester, New York, the first child of Elmore H. and Julia T. Peters.
Barb enjoyed school and participated in many extracurricular activities including band, chorus, and sports. She was baptized at the age of 12 at the Greece Baptist Church in Greece, NY. To become a doctor seemed to be what she had always wanted to do. Following high school Barb was one of only three members of her class that went on to college. She studied at the University of Rochester. With the help of her college dean, Barb won entry to the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (today part of Drexel University), then the only medical college for women in the United States. During her residence in Rochester, NY, the young doctor met a pastor, William (Bill) E. Winn. They were married in 1954 at Greece Baptist Church.
In 1955, Barb and Bill went to Edinburgh, Scotland where Barb became a specialist in internal medicine at the medical school and passed the membership exam for the Royal College of Physicians. Bill studied for his Ph.D. Their first child, Mary Joan, was born in Scotland. Upon their return to the United States in 1957, Peter was born. The family lived in Corning, NY where Bill served as interim pastor of the First Baptist Church while completing his doctoral thesis.
The family then moved back to Rochester and applied to the ABFMS for overseas service. While Barb and Bill had lived in Edinburgh Barb had the opportunity to study with doctors from all over the world. By chance she met an Indian Christian who both informed and stimulated Barb’s interest in her land and the problems she handled. Barb wrote: “Perhaps the first contact with a missionary that I remember was about 1943 at a summer course at Keuka College. A Miss Charity Carman gave a course on Burma which I found interesting.”
Barb and Bill were appointed with the ABFMS on March 9, 1959 designated to serve in Burma (today Myanmar). By then a third child, John, joined the family and in 1960 Barb, Bill and the three young children sailed for Burma. In Burma, Barb was a housewife and mother – plus! She conducted an infirmary for more than 300 students of schools on Seminary Hill in Insein: Burma Divinity School.
In addition to treating the minor and major ills of the students, Barb instituted a program of preventive medicine for the schools. At the request of the General Secretary of the Burma Christian Council, she added work at a small clinic in Okkalapa, a nearby refugee resettlement center to her schedule. There she saw 40-70 patients in 2-3 hours in a typical two-room Burma house with limited facilities. This experience was a stimulus for Barb to learn the language since diagnosis by “extra-sensory perception” or through an interpreter was rather unsatisfactory. It was also during this time that a fourth child, Amy Julia, joined the family. Amy Julia was born at Moulmein Christian Hospital, a hospital that Barb periodically helped out at.
In March 1966 the Burma government issued notice that all missionaries would be required to leave the country within two months. This decree came just one day after the Burma Baptist Convention Executive Committee voted to ask that the Winn family be allowed to remain another year. When the Winn family returned to the U.S. they settled in Laurinburg, North Carolina. Barb began private medical practice while also consulting at Scotland Memorial Hospital and Bill took a position as a professor at St. Andrews Presbyterian College.
After Bill left academia to become a political activist, Barb and he fought for better health care for textile factory workers suffering from Brown Lung Disease and helped found the Consumer Council of North Carolina. They worked with early environmental protection organizations to oppose the location of a toxic waste dump and campaigned on behalf of the national Equal Rights Amendment. Following Barb’s retirement and a move to Bill’s hometown, Martinsville, Virginia, she continued fighting, in the successful attempt to prevent a tire burning plant and to maintain the ban on uranium mining throughout the state.
Barb earned a Master Gardner certification and was active among the area. She and Bill enjoyed collecting rare plants and flowers and cultivating them on their farm. She also volunteered at the Virginia Natural History Museum and worked for many political campaigns.
William E. Winn (Bill) passed away in 2013. Barb is survived by her four children: Mary Joan Leith of Cambridge, Massachusetts; Peter Angus of Washington D.C.; John Ignatius of Winchester, Virginia; and Amy Julia Winn of Sacramento, California; and seven grandchildren.
To her family, especially her children and their spouses (all of which are lawyers or educators), Barb gave her love and an inspiring model of life dedicated to overcoming odds on behalf of improving the health and happiness of others.
Memorial contributions can be made to: Friends of Burma, with instructions to direct the funds equally to Myanmar Institute of Theology (former Burma Divinity School) and the Karen Baptist Hospital (the successor of the clinic that Barb founded). Their website is: http://www.friendsofburma.org