SWANTON – Donna Spear Barlow, 83, of Charlottesville, Va., died on Leap Day, Saturday, February 29, 2020 from complications of congestive heart failure at the Hospice of the Piedmont Center for Acute Hospice Care. Her departure was marked by a flurry of snow at dawn.
A proud Yankee, Donna was born in Burlington, Vt., on June 17, 1936 to the late Dr. Harold E. and Marilla Bliss Spear. She was raised in Swanton, Vt., a small town on our border with Canada where, according to her, snow accumulated in feet and maple syrup was a staple.
Raised by two avid baseball fans, she spent much of her childhood listening to games on the radio and spending family vacations in New York or Boston to take in a game. It was these experiences that sparked a lifetime interest and passion for sport.
Donna graduated from Bellows Free Academy (BFA) in St. Albans, Vt., in 1954 and completed a post-graduate year at House in the Pines before attending Marjorie Webster College, where she was elected to the student council and earned her associate degree in 1957. Following graduation, Donna accepted a teaching position at the Greer School in Tyrone, Penn., where she taught for two years before moving to Charlottesville to join the faculty of St. Anne’s School.
At St. Anne’s she taught PE and coached field hockey, basketball and tennis. She is fondly remembered by many of her former student athletes for her dedication, tenacity and competitive spirit.
Not long after moving to Charlottesville, she was introduced to George “Nick” Barlow and after a whirlwind courtship (met in December, engaged in May and married in August – she liked to say) they were married on August 11, 1962. Donna and Nick enjoyed an active and full life together filled with friends, picnics, cooking, tennis, lobsters, beaches, skiing, travel and most of all family.
Although not often effusive, but most certainly authentic and genuine, Donna loved her family and was a committed mother and grandmother. She also had a keen interest in others and because “it does not cost anything to be friendly,” was known for her probing but benevolent “interrogations.”
A gifted athlete, Donna had a remarkable high school basketball career. She led the BFA Comets to three consecutive Vermont State Titles, and during those three years the Comets suffered a single loss. Their games were sold out hours before they began and it has been noted that “... Donna Spear and countless others, left indelible memories of excellence in the minds of BFA fans ...” As team captain her senior year Donna scored a total of 250 points for a 19.2-points-per-game average.
Donna also enjoyed great success with her AAU basketball team — the St. Alban’s Rockets. In 1954, after winning the Northeast AAU Regional Tournament the Rockets advanced to the 6th Annual AAU Girls’ National Championship in St. Joseph, Missouri. This same year she was selected for the All Northeast AAU Team.
Dedicated UVA fans, Donna and Nick were season ticket holders for football, basketball (men’s and women’s) and baseball for over 50 years and rarely missed a game. Donna kept basketball stats and was often sought-out for her insights and opinion and at one time was asked to provide radio color commentary for the women’s games. She would have been pleased to no end that UVA came out on top over Duke on Feb. 29.
Donna is survived by her husband, Nick; her children George “Cricket” Barlow and his wife Audi and their three daughters Sarah, Kate and Emily; and her daughter Ashley Barlow. She is also survived by her sister, Jean Barker and her three children Robert, Kristen and Sally and their spouses and children; and her sister-in-law, Rebecca A. Barlow.
She is predeceased by her parents, her sister Sally and brother-in-law Robert L. Barker.
Donna’s family would like to thank her primary care physician, Dr. Lindsay Friesen and Libby Showalter, RN who provided years of exceptional and compassionate care with a gentle frankness that Donna respected and valued. They would also like to express gratitude to the nurses and doctors of UVA 6 West and the nurses and CNAs of Hospice of the Piedmont Center for Acute Hospice Care who lovingly preserved Donna’s humanity and dignity until her death.
A memorial service to celebrate Donna’s life will be held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Ivy, Virginia on Friday, March 20 at 3:00 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a gift in Donna’s memory to The Women’s Initiative of Charlottesville or to the University of Virginia Athletics Foundation.