It was a mysterious end to the lives of two highly educated, accomplished scientists, both of whom had spent their lives helping others — she by curing diseases of the body, he by curing diseases of the mind.
Interviews with family members, friends and colleagues of Newman, 62, and Lawrence, 71, reveal them as an unlikely pair to be entwined in such a tragedy. Both were remembered separately as caring, dedicated professionals, Newman an immunologist and Lawrence a psychiatrist. Both were athletic and believed in a holistic approach to well-being.
More important, both told people that they thought Newman had been headed in the right direction as she battled recent health problems and long-standing psychological issues.
But on July 22, Newman’s new-age principles gave way to unexpected violence at Lawrence’s McLean home as she took her life and that of the one person who best understood the troubles that plagued her.
Lawrence had discussed Newman’s apparent paranoia with at least two colleagues — telling one that she had begun blaming him for all her problems. Still, no one thought it would end the way it did.
“Periodically, he’s had patients who have been problematic with their boundaries,” said Lawrence’s daughter, Katherine. “He’s been worried on some occasions, but he never feared for his life. . . . My dad actually thought she was on the upswing. He hadn’t anticipated she was getting worse,” said Lawrence, who noted that her father kept details of Newman’s case confidential.
Researchers who have studied attacks against mental health professionals said patients who lash out tend to have a history of recent, repetitive criminal behavior or substance abuse. Newman had no criminal record, and friends were unaware of any substance abuse problems. For patients like her, researchers said, such attacks often are triggered by a stressful event, such as a loss of a loved one or a foreclosure.
If Newman had such a stressor, those closest to her did not know.
“I can’t imagine that she would have ever handled any of her problems in this way,” said Lisa Boyd, a friend who worked with Newman at the National Institutes of Health. “She valued life.”
Barbara Ann Newman grew up on Long Island and graduated from a top public high school. She went on to Smith College, earning a degree in psychology, and received a PhD in immunology from Columbia University.
During her college years, friends said, Newman’s father died within a week of learning he had cancer. His death affected her deeply, they said.
“He was a very strong figure in her life,” Boyd said. “I think there were things related to that that she struggled with.”