Music 06

Barbara Anne Harrison Bess

June 16, 1953 ~ March 24, 2020 (age 66)


Barbara Anne Harrison Bess, 66, beloved daughter, sister, cousin, wife, mother, aunt, grandmother, musician, teacher, and friend, was born on June 16, 1953 in Portsmouth, Virginia; and died March 24, 2020 in South Bend, Indiana, surrounded by her loving family.  She was the daughter of Clarence Everett Harrison Sr. and Margaret Sanders Harrison of Portsmouth, VA; a 1971 graduate of Churchland High School in Portsmouth, a 1975 alumna of the College of William and Mary, and a 1977 alumna of the Harvard Divinity School.


Barbara loved music throughout her life. She learned piano as a child, played the flute in her high school marching band, hosted Chicago Christmas parties featuring rousing carols and mulled wine, and made sure her children learned musical instruments. Growing up she attended Court Street Baptist Church, where during high school she wrote a new version of the church’s Christmas pageant (performed thereafter for many years) and learned to play the pipe organ, an impressive skill.  She was active in Chicago parish church choirs throughout the 1980s and 90s at St. Veronica’s, St. Benedict’s, and St. Martha’s, and later sang in The Schola at The University of Notre Dame. At St. Benedict’s in the late 1990s she was a chorus member and props mistress for several operas performed by Opera San Benedetto.


She loved visiting new places and meeting new people, and was an attentive listener. Childhood vacations to her mother's ancestral home in the Great Smokey Mountains and to the Outer Banks of North Carolina held a special place in her heart, and began her love of travel. As a college junior, she was the first William and Mary religion student to spend an exchange year at The University of St. Andrews in Scotland, leading to lifelong friendships and love of all things British.  Other travel highlights include a trip to Rome in 1992 to sing at the Vatican with the St. Benedict choir, a serendipitous windfall trip to Cologne, Germany in 1993 to offer her opinion on Toyota Corolla station wagons, ten weeks of travel throughout Italy in 2000 with Andrews University architecture students, a Fulbright trip to India in 2001 to learn about regional Indian educational systems, a visit to Taiwan with the Sisters of Providence in 2005, multiple visits to Belgium with her husband and Notre Dame graduate urban design students, a 2013 trip with her daughter to watch the 100th Tour de France, and --for her 40th wedding anniversary in 2016-- a long slow drive from eastern Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi visiting minor league baseball parks and Civil War battle sites, returning north via The Natchez Trace. She had many close friendships, and at the end of her life made a final, special trip back to Portsmouth to see family and old friends.


After serving on and eventually chairing Chicago's Queen of Angels Parish school board, Barbara became a beloved teacher at Mother Theodore Guerin High School in River Grove, IL, where for 12 years she officially taught Catholic theology and World Religions, and unofficially taught life lessons. An avid student of history, literature, and genealogy as well as theology, she particularly delighted in discussing the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War II, the Space Race, Lord of the Rings, and family trees. She knew every last cousin and their spot in the family tree, and delighted in maintaining the family history and keeping in touch with everyone.  Barbara rejoiced in her grandchildren, introducing them to the sad but hilarious wisdom of Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons, reading them favorite stories, and singing them to sleep. She was a hidden but prolific writer, corresponding through letters, cards, emails, and her blog. During the last two decades of her life she regularly invited her husband’s architecture students and other friends to share holiday meals, including once cooking a special Thanksgiving turkey for carving at table for a dear friend from Germany who had never seen one.


Barbara is survived by her husband of 43 years, Philip; her daughter Jennifer of Columbia, SC; her sons Peter (and wife Jessica) of St. Charles, IL and Alexander of Chicago, IL; her grandchildren Matthew, Sarah, and Nicholas Bess; her sister Florence Michener of Portsmouth, VA and her brother Clarence Harrison, Jr. of Suffolk, VA; two uncles, a nephew, nieces, many loving cousins (whom she reckoned up by dozens), and an aunt. She was preceded in death by her parents, and by her daughter Hilary Anne Bess. A private funeral will be held at The Basilica of The Sacred Heart at The University of Notre Dame on March 30, 2020, with a public memorial service at a future date.  Burial will be at Cedar Grove Cemetery in Notre Dame, IN. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in her name to Food for the Poor, Inc. (, Aid for Women (, or St. Patrick’s Parish in South Bend, IN (



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