Barbra Watson Riley, 45

Barbra W. Riley
Barbra W. Riley
Posted: November 16, 2013

Barbra Watson Riley, 45, the daughter of Bernard C. Watson, a prominent educator and civic leader in Philadelphia, died of breast cancer Thursday, Nov. 7, at the Mayo Clinic and Hospice in Phoenix. She lived in Paradise Valley, Ariz.

A Philadelphia native, Mrs. Riley attended John Story Jenks and Julia R. Masterman Schools before graduating from Germantown Friends School, where she played on the tennis team.

Her father is chairman of the board of trustees of the Barnes Foundation. Until 1993, he was president and chief executive officer of the William Penn Foundation.

Before that, he was a deputy superintendent of the Philadelphia public schools and an academic vice president of Temple University.

Mrs. Riley received a bachelor's degree in political science from Northwestern University and a law degree from the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. She also studied international law in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Mrs. Riley worked as a lawyer for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington and St. Louis, and as an assistant director of the Department of African and African-American Studies at New York University.

At various times, she worked as a law clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Third and Eighth Circuits in Pennsylvania and Missouri, as well as a consultant for LexisNexis, a Reed Elsevier company.

Mrs. Riley also ran her own event-planning business, the Fete Group, before leaving the workforce in 2009 to raise her daughter and dedicate herself to philanthropy.

Mrs. Riley lost her grandmother to breast cancer and was diagnosed with the disease after discovering a lump in 2011, according to a profile on the Susan G. Komen for the Cure website. She moved swiftly to get treatment, her father said.

A passionate advocate for women's health, she was a board member of the Central and Northern Arizona Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the Phoenix Affiliate of Dress for Success, a founding member of the Coalition of Blacks Against Breast Cancer, and an American Heart Association ambassador.

She was active with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the Links Inc., and Jack and Jill of America.

Before Mrs. Riley died, she wrote a play called Life in the Cancer Lane. The play was performed, and she was able to attend the show in late October.

"She came in a wheelchair and got a standing ovation," her father said. "She was a fine writer, and I'm not just saying that because she was my daughter. She was something special."

Surviving, in addition to her father, are her mother, Lois Watson; her husband, Brendon; a daughter, Blayre; a brother; and nieces and nephews.

Services are at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, at Whitney & Murphy Funeral Home, 4800 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, and 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, at the Secret Garden, Arizona State University, 1001 S. Forest Mall, Tempe, Ariz.

Donations may be made to the family via her blog:


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