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Emma Marie Dorsey Barnes, neonatal head nurse and active church member, dies

Emma Marie Dorsey Barnes was ordained as a local elder in 2001.
Emma Marie Dorsey Barnes was ordained as a local elder in 2001.

Emma Marie Dorsey Barnes, a neonatal head nurse and active church member, died of heart surgery complications Nov. 8 at the University of Maryland Medical Center. The Northwest Baltimore resident was 79.

Born in West Baltimore and raised on Arlington Avenue, she was the daughter of Harry Dorsey, a World War II veteran, and his wife, Nellie. She attended Booker T. Washington Junior High School and was a graduate of Western High School.

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“As a young girl we saw shows at the Royal Theatre on Pennsylvania Avenue. On Saturdays from 12:30 to 6 p.m., we’d be in the 10th row from the back. We stayed for two shows — all of us from Booker T.,” said a longtime friend, Milton A. Dugger Jr. “We learned to dance the Birdland together when we were in high school. She was often at City College dances as one of the young men’s dates.

“She was a smart young lady who represented everything that being a good nurse could be. She was empathetic, compassionate and joyful in her manner. From teenager to 79, she loved life.”

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A fellow classmate, Larry S. Gibson, recalled her: “She was wise and brilliant and highly respected.”

He said she was a quiet leader.

“She was assuring to others and thoughtful. She would guide us as students but she was never pushy,” said Mr. Gibson, a University of Maryland School of Law professor.

He said that most of his Booker T. Washington classmates went on to formerly all-white high schools in the years immediately after the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, which ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional.

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“We stayed friends for years,” Mr. Gibson said. “I don’t think it’s normally usual for a group of junior high school students to remain so close for so long.”

She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Morgan State University and later received master’s degrees from the Ohio State University.

She received her nursing diploma from Helene Fuld School of Nursing, an affiliate of Provident Hospital.

Her daughter, Angelina Jordan, said she was proud to have served at the hospital that was established to meet the medical needs of Baltimore’s Black population.

Mrs. Barnes was a nurse at Provident Hospital and was later a charge nurse, supervisor of the pediatric unit and head nurse of the neonatal ICU at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

She relocated to Columbus, Ohio, in the 1970s and became a vice president at Peer Review Systems. She managed the patient review process for 19 hospitals across seven Ohio counties.

In 1982 she returned to Baltimore and served in the Lutheran-Provident-Bon Secours Health System. She was a nursing educator and taught intensive care nursing.

She also returned to Saint John African Methodist Episcopal Church and became its Sunday school superintendent. She was also a church steward, usher and committee chair. In January 1999, she was made a local deacon.

In 2001 the church pastor, Maurice T. Wilson ordained her as a local elder.

She presided at services and other church functions and weddings.

She ministered to the sick, the shut-in and the bereaved for more than 30 years. She said prayers and offered encouragement and Holy Communion on a regular monthly basis.

Known as Reverend Emma, she enjoyed teaching and was often a Bible study facilitator.

“She was known to have the right word at the right moment, among those who attended those sessions,” said her daughter.

Mrs. Barnes later worked with The Sisters Ministry and with ComForCare, which provides private, in-home health services. She never retired and continued to work with patients.

On Aug. 12, 2001, she married Orlando Lewis “Barnesy” Barnes Sr. They wed at her church, where they both worshipped. He had been a church trustee, bus driver, choir member and electrician.

She developed a wide circle of friends and enjoyed their company at social events and trips to musical venues and travel. She resided in London for more than a year as a private nurse.

She was a member of Amnesty International and the NAACP.

In 2017 she was profiled in The Baltimore Sun after she was hospitalized at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Physicians gave her a genetic test to determine whether her body was effectively responding to a drug used to treat patients after they received stents to relieve clogged arteries.

The story noted that 30% of people have at least one gene variation that might prevent this activation and make the drug less effective.

Her doctors discovered Mrs. Barnes had the gene variant.

“I am absolutely glad they found out,” she said in the story. “I don’t want to keep going through stent procedures.”

The test became part of the University of Maryland’s routine care for stent patients.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Saint John Church at 810 N. Carrollton Ave.

Survivors include her daughter, Angelina Jordan of Gwynn Oak. As a grandmother figure, she also contributed to two young women. Her husband of 4 1/2 years died in 2005.

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