In Memoriam: Dr. Barry Farr, Authority on Hospital Infections

Barry Farr was inspired to go into medicine after reading physician-poet William Carlos Williams.
March 06, 2017

Dr. Barry M. Farr, an emeritus professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Virginia who made profound contributions to the field of infection control and hospital safety, died on Feb. 15. He was 65.

A worldwide authority on health care-related infections, particularly antibiotic-resistant and catheter-related infections, Farr was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which forced his retirement in 2004 from UVA’s Division of Infectious Diseases, where he was the William S. Jordan Jr. Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology.

Born and raised in Greenville, Mississippi, and inspired to attend medical school by physician-poet William Carlos Williams’ autobiography, Farr earned his medical degree from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s in epidemiology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He came to UVA for a residency in internal medicine and fellowship in infectious diseases, and subsequently joined the faculty, serving with distinction as a clinician, teacher and researcher.

Farr directed UVA’s epidemiology program for 18 years and chaired the Master of Science program in epidemiology for 11 years. He published 167 co-authored journal articles, 137 scientific abstracts and two books (as co-editor) on catheter-related infections.

He was considered a leading authority on methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection, and his work on the subject continues to inform clinical practice.

Dr. William Petri, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Mitch Rosner, chair of the Department of Medicine, wrote in an email: “For those of us fortunate to have known Barry, he was a tremendous mentor, a deep thinker with a questioning mind, and a pioneer in quality improvement. We will miss him greatly.”

Farr’s obituary noted that he loved literature and was “known to supply an appropriate quotation for any given situation.” Dr. Costi Sifri, his successor as UVA hospital epidemiologist, recalled a recent meeting in which they talked about his life in academic medicine: “He quoted from memory a line of Chaucer’s from ‘The Canterbury Tales’ –  ‘And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.’ I think it perfectly encapsulates his approach to medicine, medical education and mentorship – and does so by referencing a literary classic, which is so Barry (as the lit major he was)!”

After retirement, Farr remained a tireless advocate for patients with multiple sclerosis. He published a book, “Multiple Sclerosis: Coping With Complications,” as a way to share the knowledge and strategies he had acquired as an MS patient.

A celebration of his life is being planned for the spring; for details, email barryfarrmd@gmail.com.

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Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications