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Remembering Brenda Barnes and Bill Wardrop


The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) remembers Brenda Barnes and Bill Wardrop, two committed Governing Board members who recently passed away

Brenda Barnes passed away Jan. 17, 2017. She was 63.


Brenda had served as a distinguished member of RIC’s Board of Directors since 2014, including membership on the Identity Cabinet – an Ad Hoc Committee of the Board which oversaw the decisions relative to branding for the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, RIC’s new research hospital. Brenda’s input had a pivotal impact on the hospital’s branding and positioning. 

Following a stroke in 2010, Brenda was an inpatient at RIC for five weeks, a journey she shared widely. Just a year earlier as Sara Lee Corp. chairman and CEO, she was listed #10 on Fortune’s Most Powerful Woman list, and then suddenly found herself unable to talk, walk or even shrug her shoulders. As a 2010 Fortune profile on her recovery noted, “She channeled the intensity that she once had for business into a recovery that she calls ‘miraculous.’”

Brenda participated in many RIC SkyRise Chicago fundraisers with “Team Brenda,” upping her personal game each time, and equally upping the amounts of funds her team raised each year for RIC’s patient care and research.

“Brenda’s personal and professional history reveal a talented, brave woman whose True North was always her family,” said Joanne C. Smith, MD, RIC president and CEO. “She was authentic, wise, pragmatic, kind, and had a ready sense of humor. She added wonderful depth and breadth to the RIC Board with her humble and graceful generosity of spirit and brilliant knowledge. There could not have been a better time or more need for Brenda’s wisdom and expertise as we charted a course to become the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.” 

Bill Wardrop passed away Jan. 10, 2017. He was 63.


Bill had served as a member of RIC’s Board of Directors since 2006. Most notably, he was Chair of RIC’s Ad Hoc Facilities Committee. In this role, he was instrumental in planning for the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, and lent his vast expertise and wisdom to overseeing the project. Bill also served as a member of RIC’s Capital Campaign Leadership Committee.   

“Bill was always at the ready to help —assisting with early consultations, providing invaluable advice regarding construction, and serving as the Board liaison in overseeing the final design for the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab,” said Dr. Smith. “We will never forget Bill’s enduring advocacy for RIC and our patients. Bill knew RIC from the very inside of our mission, and was a true champion for our organization and its future. His warm humanity and keen intelligence will be greatly missed.” 

In addition to his many contributions at RIC, Bill excelled professionally in the financial services sector. In his 30-year career, he worked as an executive with industry leaders including First Chicago Corporation (Bank One/JP Morgan), Jones Lang LaSalle, and most recently Steere Capital Partners, a private investment firm where he was Managing Partner.

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