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Robert E. Barrett, M.D., Ph.D.

Robert E. Barrett, M.D., a neurologist who specialized in Parkinson’s disease, died June 25, 2011, at his home in Sparkill, N.Y. He was 79. The cause was prostate cancer, his wife, Dr. Virginia Barrett, said.

Dr. Barrett’s career as a clinician and research scientist spanned nearly half a century. As a researcher, he conducted some of the early, groundbreaking investigations of the effects of L-Dopa (dopamine) in Parkinsonism in the late 1960s and 1970s that helped to pave the way to its widespread usage as the treatment for Parkinson’s disease. His research also included work on cerebrovascular spasm and vasoconstriction in stroke, muscular disorders, and progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, a form of dementia in immunocompromised patients in the early 1980s, later discovered to be a sequelae of AIDS. He published more than 50 articles in peer-reviewed journals as well as several book chapters.

Dr. Barrett was clinical professor of neurology at P&S for three decades. He was an attending neurologist at the Neurological Institute, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, and Lenox Hill Hospital, as well as a consultant at Vassar Brothers Hospital for the Department of Neurology/Neurosurgery.

Dr. Barrett’s private practice was on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where he was a sole practitioner for 40 years. As a clinician, he was considered a leading Parkinson’s disease expert. His other areas of expertise were headache, stroke, seizure disorder, multiple sclerosis, peripheral neuropathy, and neck and lumbar spine problems. He provided care to thousands of patients over his career. “Bob Barrett was a unique human being. Not only brilliant in his profession, he was able immediately to forge a friendship with his patients, of which I was one. I truly admired and liked him, and when I saw him professionally always enjoyed the visit,” said former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, a patient of his.

Dr. Barrett was a past member of more than 15 medical professional societies, including president of the Medical Strollers of New York City, and a member of the Century Association. He also was a jazz enthusiast and a piano student of Lennie Tristano.

Robert Edward Barrett was born Sept. 1, 1931, in Taunton, Mass. His family ultimately moved to Williamsburg, Va., where his father, Joseph Eagle Barrett, M.D., became commissioner of mental hygiene for the state of Virginia. He attended the College of William and Mary and received his M.D. from the Medical College of Virginia in 1957. After completing his internship at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, Canada, and a year of residency at the Medical College of Virginia Hospital in Richmond, Va., he completed a one-year fellowship in neuropathology at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center under the mentorship of Dr. Abner Wolf. He went on to complete his neurology residency and a year as chief resident at the Neurological Institute under the tutelage of Dr. H. Houston Merritt.

Dr. Barrett served in the military from 1963 to 1965 as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy at the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia.

In addition to Virginia, his wife of more than 45 years, Dr. Barrett is survived by his son, Robert Barrett Jr., and daughter, Elizabeth Barrett, both of Sparkill, N.Y.; two grandchildren; two step-grandchildren; and his brother, James F. Barrett, and his family, of Richmond, Va.

See a photo on the Department of Neurology web site here.