Richard Paul Barber, Jr. ’84

Richard Paul Barber, Jr., of Santa Clara California, died peacefully June 25, 2024 from complications of a bone marrow transplant. He was 62.

Rich was born December 14, 1961 in Iredell County, North Carolina and grew up in Mooresville, North Carolina. After graduating from Mooresville High School in 1980, he attended Davidson College where he received a B.S. degree in Physics in 1984. Following that, he received a Ph.D. in 1990 at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he studied superconductivity in disordered films.

He then worked as a post-doctoral researcher at UC San Diego and then two more years as a post-doctoral fellow in oceanography studying air-sea interactions at the University of Delaware.

Rich came to Santa Clara University in 1995 and built a lab that became a hub for cross-disciplinary undergraduate research. During his career there, he mentored 48 undergraduates and three high school research students whose majors included Physics, Engineering Physics, Biochemistry, Biology, and Public Health. Thirty-six of these students were co-authors with Rich on one or more peer-reviewed publications.

On projects ranging from superconductors to solar materials to insect silk to dance, he engaged students and colleagues with kindness and a deep love for learning. In 2023, Rich received the Bernard Hubbard S.J. Creative Collaboration Award, a testament to his gift for teaching through professional research projects and creative work. Beyond the classroom and research lab, Rich served as, among other positions, Chair of the Physics Department, Director of the Center for Nanostructures, Chair of the University Rank and Tenure Committee, and advisor to Sigma Pi Sigma, the honor society for Physics and Astronomy students.

Other than his phenomenal teaching skills, Rich was known for his brightly colored ties, which he wore with equally brightly colored short-sleeved shirts. He was also known for his talkative nature, meaning if you asked him what time it was, he would tell you how to build a clock.

He had high expectations of his students, and mentored them with gentle encouragement, sometimes with a boisterous gaffaw. His colleagues also described him as authentic, loving, loyal, sacred and mildly profane. They said he was “a man of science who knew there was more.”

He met the love of his life, Letel, in high school and they married in 1985. The two enthusiastically embraced the local culture of whereever they lived, including a deep love for the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland crabs and the San Francisco Giants. His son Charlie was born in 2000.

He often cycled with Charlie and taught him how to build, weld, plumb and use any tool in the shed. He enjoyed cooking–especially Lebanese cuisine, as it was his heritage–eating and traveling. But most of all, he loved spending time with Charlie.

He additionally served as the Commissioner of Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Scouting Association and with his beautiful bass voice sang in the choir for more than 25 years at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and Trinity Cathedral in San Jose.

Rich’s health started to decline in 2021 and he overcame three various cancer diagnoses. Sadly, he was diagnosed again last November with MDS, Myelodysplastic Syndrome, a form of blood cancer. He received a stem cell tranplant at Stanford University Hopsital on June 7. After doing well for several weeks, he became critically ill from complications of the transplant June 17.

He is preceded in death by his mother, Martha Barber of Mooresville, North Carolina and then Santa Clara (2021) and his father Richard P. Barber, of Mooresville, NC who passed in 1980. He is survived by his wife Letel; his son Charlie, of Santa Clara; his uncle Richard A. May of Burlington, North Carolina; cousins in Massachusetts, Tennessee and North Carolina and many, many friends and colleagues.

Donations in his name can be made to Ventana Wildlife Society, which conserves native wildlife and their habitats through science, education and collaboration or the Second Harvest of Silicon Valley Food Bank.

A memorial service is pending.