USA TODAY reporter Olivia Barker dies at 40
Andrea Mandell, USA TODAY
Contributing: Alison Maxwell, Kim Willis, Susan Weiss
December 8, 2014
Whip-smart and witty, with a laugh that could fill a newsroom, reporter Olivia Barker died Sunday at home after a four-year battle with breast cancer. She was 40.
Barker interviewed all walks of life, from the famous to the infamous, deftly zeroing in on social trends across the nation.
"She would beg for the craziest assignments," says Kim Willis, Barker's first editor at USA TODAY. "She would light up at the prospect of traipsing through Peoria in full Sex and the City regalia or spending spring break at The Price Is Right. She brought an infectious sense of joy to everything she did."
Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda shouted out Olivia on the Today Show. It's hard not to feel Olivia smiling at the thought of it.
Inside a friendship: Olivia Barker remembered
Andrea Mandell, USA TODAY
December 8, 2014
In March of 2008 I dragged entertainment reporter Olivia Barker into the domain of shaky-cam web video, thanks to a video series I'd pitched the higher ups called Celeb Style. I didn't know Olivia, and back then I was best known as a catch-all "producer" tasked with multimedia-ing this newspaper up.
So there we were, at a store in the West Village called Belly Dance Maternity, and I was prepping her for her taped intro.
"Welcome to Celeb Style! I'm USA TODAY's Olivia Barker and – "
"Great job!" said my twentysomething self. "Let's do it again." I was green. She was game. I asked her to repeat the line about eight more times. Olivia must have loathed this … thing … armed with a T-Mobile Sidekick (in fairness, please recall its great keyboard), but she delivered her lines again and again with gusto....
Remembering Olivia Barker
Michael Gollust, for The College Hill Independent, Brown University
The College Hill Independent would like to salute the life and career of one of its most admired and beloved editors, Olivia Taylor Barker. She died on December 7 at the age of 40 after a four-year battle with breast cancer. Olivia, while serving as managing editor for two semesters between 1995 and 1996, inspired countless classmates to pursue journalism on campus and in careers beyond. As a prolific writer for the Indy, she edified and entertained with her dogged reporting, sharp wit, and finely-wrought writing. Highlights included an expose of internecine strife in the Brown political science department and a midnight romp down the slopes of College Hill with RISD skateboarders. After graduating from Brown with a concentration in English in 1996, she earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, where she met her husband, Ben Court, who is now a senior editor at Men's Health magazine.
Recruited by USA Today at the age of 26, Olivia became a national features writer, covering everything from shifting generational attitudes toward marriage to the psychological aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In 2002, she took on one of her all-time favorite assignments, competing in the Miss America pageant as a contestant while reporting on the experiences from the inside out, putting into vivid practice the sort of participatory journalism she admired most and had explored in her Brown honor’s thesis with Professor Emeritus of English George Landow.
Toward the end of her career, Olivia once again shared personal experience with her readers in the pages of USA Today. Drawing a contrast with the headline-grabbing news of Angelina Jolie’s successful bilateral mastectomy, Olivia told the story of “the brave ones in the country's breast cancer conversation” who are “so quiet as to be all but ignored. They're the women with metastatic disease, especially the young women I get chemo alongside at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, the ones who really may not see their children graduate from kindergarten, let alone high school.”
Olivia, who lived with courage, intensity, passion and a boundless spirit, is missed dearly by her friends, family, and the Brown community. She is survived by her husband and their son, Henry Barker Court, age five.
Scholarship Fund Created In Memoriam of Alumna
June 11, 2016 Jennie Yu for The Black and White, Walt Whitman High School
Thanks to a scholarship fund set up at the Columbia School of Journalism, one Whitman alumna’s friends and family have ensured that her legacy will never be forgotten.
Olivia Barker (’92) passed away in 2014, following a triple-negative BRCA-positive breast cancer diagnosis. In her memory, loved ones created the Olivia Barker Scholarship Fund at Columbia. Barker received her Master’s degree in journalism at the university, following a passion that sprouted in high school writing for the Black & White.
After graduating, Barker wrote for the Life section of USA Today, covering events such as the Olympics, New York Fashion Week, and even the Miss America pageant, posing as the 52nd contestant for a behind-the-scenes look at the event.
“She loved identifying a new fashion trend, writing about unique human experiences, and digging into all aspects of American life,” Cumberland said. “Her abilities for writing well, for sharing people’s experiences, and for telling a good story unfortunately were cut short by her death.”
When Barker passed, family and friends wanted something positive to come from her tragic death, said Pamela Shockey, Barker’s sister.
“Every year, this fund will be bestowed to a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism with a prodigious talent for storytelling like Olivia,” Shockey said.
Shockey, Cumberland and many other family members and friends hope to fully endow the fund with $100,000 by 2020, meaning they will need an additional $64,240 in donations.
Alumna Jessica Furst (’92) said that Barker’s family will select and have the opportunity to meet the recipient of the scholarship, in order to simultaneously honor Barker and recognize a talented young journalist.
“I miss her very, very much, but it’s comforting to think other people will benefit from this opportunity,” Cumberland said. “There are so many stories out there, and the world needs more journalists to tell them.”