Patricia Barker, 1928-2004


Norman and Patricia (Swenson) Barker, married at the Cardiff Avenue Christian Church in 1947.

Freethought Todayis sorry to report the death of longtime Arizona Foundation member Patricia Barker on March 29, two days after her 76th birthday.

Former fundamentalist Christians Patsy and Norman Barker, the parents of Foundation staff member Dan Barker, joined the Foundation in 1986. Dan’s deconversion from the ministry prompted their own reevaluation of faith and religion.

Patricia Swenson was born in Tucson, Arizona, in 1928. Raised by her grandmother in California, she graduated from Alexander Hamilton High School in Los Angeles. While singing in dance bands, she met a trombone player named Norman Barker, who had also graduated from Hamilton High a couple of years earlier. They were married at the Christian Church in 1947.

While people often compared Patsy’s voice to the youthful Ella Fitzgerald, her family disagreed: Ella, they said, sounded like Patsy.

After giving birth to three boys–Danny, Tommy, and Darrell–the family became even more religious, with regular church attendance, door-to-door witnessing, week-long revival meetings, and daily devotionals. While Norman attended Pacific Bible College studying for the ministry, Patricia dedicated herself to teaching Sunday School.

After Norman retired from the Anaheim Police Department in 1981, they moved to Apache Junction, Arizona. In 1984, Patsy received Dan’s letter of “deconversion” from Christianity and went to talk with him about it. “The answers he gave me impressed my heart and mind,” she told a Milwaukee Journal journalist. “I had so much love for my son, I knew in some way he was right.” After several weeks of thinking, she came to the conclusion that religion is “just a bunch of baloney” and felt a “tremendously great disappointment in [the idea of] God.”

After becoming a freethinker, the journalist reported, “she struck upon the joyous realization that, for the first time in her life, she could love everyone—even homosexuals and prostitutes and people of other religions whom ‘Christians aren’t supposed to love.’ “

Patricia Barker’s name appears on the plaque of “Special Donors” to the Foundation’s 1990 Freethought Hall building fund.

Patsy was always a happy person. She had displayed Robert Ingersoll’s motto on her bookshelf: “Happiness is the only good.” “I’m only in it for the love,” she used to sing. She once told son told Tom, “I like the feeling of being happy,” and she advised granddaughter Sabrina, “If you want to be happy, then . . . be happy.”

She was buried on April 1 in Mesa, Ariz. She is survived by her husband Norman, three sons, nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Freedom From Religion Foundation