In Memoriam – Henry J.M. Barnett

HJMB picture

Henry J.M. “Barney” Barnett, neurologist, was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK in 1922 and died in Toronto, Canada on October 20, 2016. He was best known for his contribution to randomized stroke-prevention trials that investigated aspirin effectiveness to prevent stroke,1 the lack of effectiveness of cerebral bypass,2 and the effectiveness of carotid endarterectomy.3 Part of the success of these trials stemmed from Barney’s understanding of the value of an angiographic core lab for the studies; NASCET’s success came, in part, from the core lab’s insistence on consistent, reproducible stenosis quantification.

He was honored throughout his lifetime. He was inducted as a Companion of the Order of Canada (the closest Canadian award to a UK knighthood), was recognized as an Honorary Doctor of Science at Oxford University, received the Stroke Research Award of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, and held honorary membership in foreign medical societies including the Royal Society of Medicine (UK), the Russian Academy of Medical Science, the Indian Academy of Neurology, the Hungarian Neurosurgical Society, among others.

He completed medical school at the University of Toronto in 1944, and followed up with Toronto residencies in medicine and neurology, as well as fellowships at Oxford and Queen Square. At Queen Square, he overlapped with Charlie Drake, a neurosurgery fellow. They developed both a professional and personal relationship, as evidenced by their intertwining families. (Some of his grandchildren are Drakes.)

In the late 1960s, he moved from Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital to join Drake in London, Ontario, where the two formed an innovative, combined-university clinical neurosciences department. After I was recruited in 1976, I saw the special opportunity in combining neurology and neurosurgery into one academic department, along with neuropathology and neuroradiology. The CNS department’s academics gave it a prominent place at the university table beside medicine and surgery; neurology was not considered to be merely one of many subsets of medicine or neurosurgery one of surgery.

As the Editor-in-Chief of Stroke, Barney was careful to recuse himself from manuscripts submitted by those from his own department. As I worked closely with Barney, I saw a master at work. He was on a first-name basis with those at the highest levels of NINDS, the Medical Research Council of Canada (now CIHR), and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (HSFC). NASCET received the largest NIH grant to date for foreign research. He was instrumental in including the word “stroke” in HSFC’s name, unlike the American Heart Association. He proposed a new London research institute with unique governance that was separate from both the hospital and the university. His fundraising abilities were formidable. He visited the Conservative Premier of Ontario and returned with a large grant to support the planned institute, which is now named after John Robarts, a former premier who experienced a series of debilitating strokes. Then Barney visited the Liberal Prime Minister of Canada, who added another large contribution.

Every few days, without prior notice, we in (the) neuroradiology (department) were summoned into Barney’s office to display innovative interventional materials and images of successful INR cases for yet another visiting leader of industry, potential donor, or even the American ambassador. One time the CEO of a multi-national company was flown in from Europe and diverted from New York to London for an urgent consultation with Barney after a spell in his overseas office. We fit in a same-day CT and IV DSA (it was 1982), Barney gave him a clean bill of health, and he left town with a seat on the institute’s board after pledging a six-figure donation. We can claim that our neuroradiologic work enabled the founding of the Robarts Research Institute.

Barney had diverse connections. In the early 1990s, he was a stroke consultant for the famous Lubavitcher Rebbe, who had a stroke in New York. After Barney was called at Princeton, he was escorted to New York by police who closed the Lincoln Tunnel to get him quickly to the Rebbe. That night, I received a FedEx package containing a CT with instructions to call Barney and offer my interpretation. A few months later, Barney was invited to a wedding of one of the Rebbe’s family members in a Manhattan square just beneath the languishing Rebbe’s hospital window. Barney told me that he and Mayor Rudy Guiliani were the only ones in the crowd not wearing black coats and fedoras.

While Barney is known for his work regarding stroke, earlier in his career he contributed to spinal cord disease research by discovering and reporting posttraumatic syringomyelia.4 Even prior to his work on stroke, he was already a recognized syrinx expert, especially for his monograph Syringomyelia.5

He was seriously interested in birds and preserving nature. As a boy, he skipped Sunday school to frequent Toronto lagoons with his binoculars. Over the course of his career, he would tell various foreign hosts that he wished to see local birds, and would often be led on a bird walk by an ornithology institute director or university biology chair. He was an advocate of the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) for the Happy Valley Forest in King Township (north of Toronto), where he owned property acquired when his children were young. He passed on his passion for forests, ponds, and meadows to his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. NCC published his detailed blog of flora and fauna.6 His successful campaign for preservation included activities such as hosting a Canadian Prime Minister in his own living room to drum up support. He was able to personally enable NCC by preserving areas that housed threatened plant and animal species.—Allan J. Fox


  1. The Canadian Cooperative Stroke Study Group. A randomized trial of aspirin and sulfinpyrazone in threatened stroke. N Engl J Med 1978;299:53–59, 10.1056/NEJM197807132990201
  2. EC/IC Bypass Study Group. Failure of extracranial/intracranial arterial bypass to reduce the risk of ischemic stroke. Results of an international randomized trial. N Engl J Med 1985;313:1191–1200, 10.1056/NEJM198511073131904
  3. North American Symptomatic Carotid Endarterectomy Trial Collaborators. Beneficial effect of carotid endarterectomy in symptomatic patient with high-grade carotid stenosis. N Engl J Med 1991;325:445–53
  4. Barnett HJM, Jousse AT, Morley TP, et al. Post-traumatic syringomyelia. Paraplegia 1971;9:33–37
  5. Barnett HJM, Foster JB, Hudgson P, eds. Syringomyelia. London: Saunders; 1973:261–301
  6. Barnett HJM. Land Lines. Nature Conservancy Canada website.
In Memoriam – Henry J.M. Barnett