Correction to This Article
A photograph with a the article on Effi Barry was incorrectly credited. The photo of her praying was taken by Hamil R. Harris of The Washington Post.

Effi Barry, Facing Whatever Came

Friday, September 7, 2007

On June 25, Effi Barry, battling leukemia and facing the fact that the search for a bone marrow match had failed, sat for a series of interviews about her life. The city's former first lady and ex-wife of Marion Barry described herself as a person of faith.

"I certainly see the presence of God in my life every day," she said. "With this experience I am very much at peace and I have no doubt that the outcome will be positive. . . . God does answer prayer: He says yes and he says no. But we might not get the answer that we want, but we have to learn to accept that. If it turns out to be this way in my life, this has been a fantastic life."

-- Hamil R. Harris and Ben de La Cruz

Why did you decide to go public with your illness?

I felt that I should go public because not to garner attention or pity, but I wanted to use this experience to advocate, to advocate for people to become a little more concerned about other people. To become organ donors, to consider donating blood, to consider getting on the registry for bone marrow. . . . If I can use my personal journey then this is what I am willing to do.

How did you learn to become a first lady in this political city?

You know there is really no finishing school for first ladies. . . . The first year was a nightmare for me because no one told me in the whole political campaign that I would have a role to play. When you are involved in a political campaign it is like one long day. Your energies are invested in getting your candidate elected. . . . And so when Marion won the first time as mayor, the night of the celebration we were just very, very jubilant about his win and then a reporter stuck a microphone in my face and said, "Well, as first lady what will be your projects?" . . .

I soon learned to develop a really thick skin because people will say anything to you because they feel they have the right to say that and sometimes people can be very, very hurtful, but you know in the experience you make a decision that this is my life and I am going to live it the way that I want.

It was a time of service. . . . I was involved in those kinds of things that brought me personal joy. . . . One of my projects was to . . . open up the mayor's office for the first time to the community and allow local artists to show their works. That was a wonderful, wonderful experience for me. . . .

I was very much involved in a lot of health issues. . . . In the '80s we were just devastated by a disease that we didn't know a lot about. That was the beginning of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Washington. So we were on the cutting edge in terms of trying to deal with this devastating disease. In a way I tried to step up and tried to encourage the city to show compassion. Twenty-five years later we still have one of the highest incidences of HIV/AIDS in the world.

What lessons did you learn from this time of great promise as well as great struggle?

It was an exciting time in terms of being a part of change and making and seeing how the city did change. Being involved in projects that helped others. . . .

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