Donor Spotlight: Barbara Baehr

Barbara Baehr

When international scholars come to UC San Diego to study and participate in research, UC San Diego's high-speed environment can be daunting. That's challenging enough, but these visitors also must quickly adjust to a very different way of life. This is why the UC San Diego International Center is a valued home base, and why volunteers like Barbara Baehr are such an asset.

"I help visiting Asian MD/PhDs with their English, and tutor them on living in San Diego," says Barbara, a longtime International Center volunteer, tutor, mentor and supporter.

She's a go-to person for the practical, everyday information most of us don't think twice about. For example, "Japanese have never seen beets. And visitors need to know that they must have the title to their car in order to sell it, or in case of an accident."

At the age of 96, Barbara is one of the senior-most mentors at the International Center. Barbara connected with UC San Diego in 1981 shortly after moving to the region, having spent most of her life in New York City. Actually, she broke the continuum of three lifetimes: Her parents and grandmother were New Yorkers, too. Her father was a prominent internist devoted to public health ("Louis B. Mayer called him when he had a scratchy throat.") George Baehr completed medical school at Columbia University while in his teens and went on to earn recognition for his insights on pathogens. His influence on his daughter is still evident in her stories of "his devotion and insights on public health, as evidenced by his 20 years as advisor to the Senate's Committee on Public Health."

Barbara's college education took a winding path, starting at tiny Colby College in Maine. She then transferred to Carnegie Institute of Technology to study industrial design, then Barnard College for anthropology. After a turn in the U.S. Army, she returned to New York and landed a job managing a pharmacology company lab testing parenteral solutions for the Navy and attending classes at night prior to joining Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons, class of 1950.

That would lead her to build a decades-long career in medical communications, contributing to monthly magazines, speech writing for medical experts, producing educational medical films for MDs and streamlining Medical Specialty Board Review exams for doctors maintaining their credentials.

"My last project was working on a ‘Board Test in a Box' for Harvard's Belmont Hospital. I was completely responsible for preparing a psychiatric Board Review exam that physicians could prepare for and take at home or at their convenience to maintain their credentials."

Barbara has led an adventurous life, and at different points in her career she's earned a U.S. Coast Guard license in order to run a boat chartering outfit, taught boat handling, and started a remodeling construction business. But her heart and mind always brought her back to medicine and education, which is why she supports scholars in UC San Diego's MD/PhD program, and international students in particular.

Retired since 1981, Barbara still devotes her time to international (especially Asian) post-doc scholars in UC San Diego's MD/PhD research programs, which has influenced her estate plans. She has generously established five charitable gift annuities that will ultimately benefit the UC San Diego School of Medicine, to be used by the school to support medical students where the need is greatest.