Honoring the foresight of a great hospital's founder

May 25, 2012

Did Robert Barnes know what he was starting when he left a bequest in his 1882

Barnes-Jewish hospital board chairman Patrick Stokes (left) and hospital president Rich Liekweg (right) place a wreath at Robert Barnes’ grave in Bellefontaine Cemetery. PHOTO BY SCOTT RAGAN

will to found a new hospital?

He certainly knew how to make and manage money. He went from store clerk to bank president before the age of 40.

He knew how to change a community. He and his wife, the daughter of the prominent St. Louis DeMun family, were the backbone of many philanthropic efforts in St. Louis.

He also knew he wanted to spare others the pain he and his wife felt after the death of their two children in infancy. That’s why he decided to “make humanity his heir.”

Robert Barnes surely knew the hospital erected in his name would have a profound effect on St. Louis. But did he foresee that Barnes Hospital, and later, Barnes-Jewish Hospital, would change the course of the practice of medicine?

Could he have imagined brain-mapping, transplant surgery, procedures that repair the heart through tiny incisions in the leg, or operations to restore function to paralyzed limbs?

When you consider that those of us who work here are sometimes dumbfounded by the medical wonders we see on a daily basis, it’s unlikely that Barnes had a clue as to what his bequest would bring.

Even if he didn’t, the request he made of those who would run his hospital was fairly modest. He asked only that hospital administrators lay a memorial wreath on his grave once a year.

On Monday, May 21, Barnes-Jewish president Rich Liekweg and Patrick Stokes, chairman of the Barnes-Jewish board of directors, placed a wreath at the grave in Bellefontaine Cemetery where Robert Barnes is buried with his wife, Louise, and infant son and daughter. This is the third trip Liekweg has made to the cemetery since assuming Barnes-Jewish presidency.

In a twist of historical irony, it’s especially fitting that Stokes go on the annual trip to the cemetery. Before his retirement, Stokes was president and CEO of Anheuser-Busch Co, one of the biggest beer producers in the world. In the mid-1800s, Robert Barnes was approached by a young German immigrant for a loan to help his father-in-law expand his home brewing business. Other banks in town had turned him down. Barnes gave Aldophus Busch the loan that helped him found Anheuser-Busch.

Maybe Robert Barnes had more insight into the future than we know.

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Category: Foundation (Giving)

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