In Memoriam Spring 2024

Joanne Barkett Conway

Philanthropist's passion for supporting nursing leaves a strong legacy at GW.

Members of the George Washington University community are mourning the loss of Joanne Barkett Conway, a noted philanthropist and owner of the Golden Door, a popular health resort. She died at age 75 on Jan. 8 at her home in McLean, Va., after a short illness.

Much of Mrs. Conway’s philanthropy focused on nursing. Support from the Conways has helped produce more than 7,000 nurses at 15 nursing schools at universities throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, GW Nursing among them.

Mrs. Conway and her husband, William, have given more than $2.6 million to GW, primarily to establish the William and Joanne Conway Transitioning Warriors Nursing Scholars Initiative in the School of Nursing. The initiative provides scholarships for military veterans enrolled in GW Nursing’s accelerated bachelor of science program. To date, 49 scholarships have been awarded to help veterans continue their service through a civilian career in nursing.

Associate Vice President and Chief Development Officer for Health and Medicine Jackie Wood noted that the Conways were particularly proud of providing a financial bridge for veteran nursing students to reenter the civilian workforce into a profession experiencing a critical shortage of qualified practitioners. “The Conways recognized this unique population has the experience and leadership skills to be successful, and that their service to their country makes them highly deserving of assistance.”

GW Nursing Dean Susan Kelly-Weeder said she is “deeply saddened” by the loss of Mrs. Conway and remembered the impact she made.

“Mrs. Conway touched so many lives,” Kelly-Weeder said. “Her vision to support nursing students and specifically her commitment to military veterans was revolutionary. Together, Mr. and Mrs. Conway have transformed the lives of students here at GW and around the country, providing them the opportunity to pursue their calling in the field of nursing.”

President Ellen M. Granberg offered similar praise for the Conway legacy.

“Joanne Conway was a valued friend of the George Washington University,” said Granberg. “Her visionary commitment to advance educational opportunities for veterans entering the nursing field has had a life-changing effect on many.”

In a nod to the fictional setting of the classic 1940s holiday film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the Conways named their family’s major avenue for giving the Bedford Falls Foundation.

Mrs. Conway became interested in assisting nursing students after a restaurant waitress shared details of her struggle to pay for a nursing degree.

Though she avoided the limelight, Mrs. Conway was recognized for her philanthropic work with several honorary doctorate degrees.

In addition to her husband, survivors include her sisters Elaine Joseph and Denise Pontius; six nieces and nephews, 14 grandnieces and nephews; stepson William E. Conway III and his wife, Brittany, and their three daughters.  

“Mrs. Conway touched so many lives. Her vision to support nursing students and specifically her commitment to military veterans was revolutionary.”

Susan Kelly-Weeder
GW Nursing Dean

John Raymond Campbell, M.S. ’86 
(Sept. 17, 2023, 82), 
had a 42-year career with the federal government across several agencies, including Goddard Space Flight Center, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Defense. A trailblazer in digital programming and security systems, he earned five degrees, including a Master of Science from George Washington University. Campbell is survived by his wife of 56 years, Deirdre, and his daughter, Sheila.

Dagmar Renate “Reni” Henney 
(Sept. 16, 2023, 92), 
was born in Berlin in 1931. After her mother was tragically killed in Auschwitz, Henney and her father, a scientist, had to flee from the Nazis and later from the invading Russian army. Henney’s father taught her chess and mathematics at home, and at the age of 10, she was admitted to the Abitur High School in Hamburg, Germany. In 1951, Henney immigrated to the U.S. where she earned a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s degree in pure mathematics. She later became the first woman to earn a doctorate in pure mathematics from the University of Maryland. As a tenured professor at George Washington University, Henney earned numerous accolades and awards. She is survived by her son, Alan.

James Woodrow Johnson Jr., J.D. ’75 
(Nov. 30, 2023, 80), 
rose from segregated schooling in Virginia to a distinguished career as a criminal defense attorney in Washington, D.C. His passions included boating and mentoring youth, and he had an enduring love for dogs. Johnson is survived by his ex-wife, Viki; daughter, Christina; granddaughter, Vivian; girlfriend, Stacey; sister, Jacqueline; brother, Jonathan; and numerous nieces and nephews.

Irene Thompson 
(Nov. 12, 2023), 
was born in Harbin, a small town in northern China. She later moved to Shanghai, where she graduated from a Russian high school, and then to the U.S., where she earned a master’s in linguistics from Georgetown University and a doctorate in psychology. Thompson became a nationally recognized Russian-language teacher, textbook developer and key figure in Russian-language test development. She taught at George Washington University from the early 1960s until her retirement in 1995.