First female Evanston mayor dies after battle with leukemia

Tori Latham, City Editor

Former Mayor Joan Barr-Smith died Saturday at the age of 75, city manager Wally Bobkiewicz told Evanston media in an email.

Her cause of death is believed to be leukemia, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said.

Barr-Smith was born in 1939 in Chicago, Illinois. She received her bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University in 1961 and moved to Evanston in 1962. She owned her own catering business and later became the governmental affairs director for the American Dental Hygienists Association, according to public records from the Evanston Public Library.

Barr-Smith served as 2nd Ward alderman from 1977 to 1985 and was elected the first female mayor of Evanston in 1985, a position she held until 1993.

“She was utterly charming,” Tisdahl said. “People liked her very much.”

As mayor, Barr-Smith addressed municipal issues from downtown redevelopment to the city’s landfill problem. Tisdahl noted Barr-Smith was also known for vetoing a 1990 ordinance that would have taxed Northwestern students.

On a more personal level, Tisdahl said Barr-Smith was always kind whenever they communicated.

“She was so gracious and supportive,” Tisdahl said. “Even though I probably did things she wouldn’t have done, she was still always encouraging and positive.”

After leaving office, Barr-Smith earned a master’s degree from NU’s Kellogg School of Management in 1996 and trained to become a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago in 2007, according to library records.

Memorial services for Barr-Smith will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 28, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 1509 Ridge Ave. According to the church, Barr-Smith’s family requests those wishing to send flowers instead donate to the church, the Northlight Theatre in Skokie or the Evanston History Center, 225 Greenwood St.

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