Barbara Hussey Riggins was one of the first Red Cross workers to arrive in Korea after the outbreak of hostilities in 1950. With a bachelor’s degree in education from UC Berkeley, she wasn’t a medical professional but wanted to do what she could to help. She served as a “recreation worker,” writing letters for wounded soldiers, reading to them, and lending a friendly ear.
Her efforts were so exemplary that the Red Cross used her story to inspire millions of dollars in donations. On March 1, 1953, she sat beside President Dwight Eisenhower during a White House radio address to kick off that year’s Red Cross fundraising campaign. After the President introduced her, they aired a radio play about her experiences in Korea—with actress Shirley Booth playing the role of Barbara.
When she passed away in September 2014 at the age of 93, she made generous donations of her own by leaving bequests to various charities.
“She left nearly all her money to charity, focusing on the three things she cared about most: international causes, her Catholic faith, and children,” says retired Maryknoll missionary Father Bob Carleton, her cousin and the executor of her estate.
A lifelong resident of the East Bay, Barbara directed her children-focused bequest to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland. The former Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland affiliated with UCSF in 2014. Its admissions exceed 173,000 annually, and more than 70 percent of its patients are on Medi-Cal.
“Our doors opened more than 100 years ago, thanks to the foresight and generosity of the women who were our founders,” says Bertram Lubin, president of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland. “We are incredibly grateful for gifts like Mrs. Riggins’s, which make an enormous difference in our ability to continue serving all the children in our community.”
Barbara worked for many years as a librarian and teacher in the Antioch school district, and she created a scholarship to help graduates attend college. She loved to travel and visited Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America, for a time teaching in an American school in North Africa. Her deep faith was a source of strength throughout her life.
“The basic motivation for her service in the Red Cross and public education, as well as her philanthropy, came from her Christian faith,” says Father Carleton. “Many members of her family devoted their lives to service and I think she, too, felt inspired to help others in any way she could.”
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