Barbara Wong, M.D., 81


PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Barbara Schepps Wong, M.D. died on March 14, 2024, after a long, courageous battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Her life was marked by accomplishment and the constant pursuit of the highest standards of excellence for herself, her students and her staff. But even more, she cherished her roles as wife, mother, grandmother and philanthropist.

She was born on April 17, 1942 in Chester, Pennsylvania to Rose and Melvin Schepps. Barbara’s family had limited means when she was growing up but she had a happy childhood except when her parents forced her to practice playing her violin, which she hated. She excelled in the Chester Public School System. She went on to earn an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She funded her education by working in various research labs on campus. It was an integral part of her education. Then it was onto Hahnemann Medical College, where she earned an M.D. in 1964. She supported herself by working at the Hahnemann Hospital E.R. These years demonstrated her strong work ethic which continued for the rest of her life. Residency training followed at the New England Deaconess Hospital and the Boston City Hospital. In 1964, she moved to Columbus Ohio and found employment at the Ohio State University Hospital Radiology Department. She encountered her first brush with gender pay discrimination. She pushed her case and won pay parity for the few female doctors employed there at the time.

She then settled in Rhode Island but only after she experienced gender discrimination again. She was rejected by a radiology chief who said “I didn’t hire her nor will I ever hire a woman radiologist.” Fortunately, she was then hired by Ray Medical Group (subsequently renamed Rhode Island Medical Imaging or “R.I.M.I.”). She lived the remainder of her life in Pawtucket and Providence. At a time when there were few women leaders in medicine, Barbara was elected President of R.I.M.I. and served in that role for over 15 years. During that time the group experienced spectacular growth and increasing academic prominence. Under Barbara’s leadership, R.I.M.I. became the primary radiology group affiliated with Brown Medical School and grew to become one of the largest and most prestigious radiology practices in the country.

Barbara was the guiding force in the founding of the Anne C. Pappas Center for Breast Imaging 28 years ago at R.I. Hospital. She particularly loved mentoring the wonderful technologists at the center, one of whom described Barbara as the person who “put R.I. on the map for having the highest quality breast screening programs, equipment and staff” in her role as director of the Pappas Center. She led the way in caring for women with breast disease in R.I. and Southern New England. She left scores of grateful patients who considered her integral to the early diagnosis of their breast cancer and their subsequent successful therapy.

Barbara was a leader in everything she did. In addition to her roles as president of R.I.M.I. and director of the Pappas Center, she served as president of the R.I. Hospital Medical Staff Association, a member of the R.I. Hospital Board of Directors and president of the Rhode Island Medical Society. She was the Clinical Professor of Diagnostic Imaging at the Warren Alpert School of Medicine (Brown University). In 2004, she received the prestigious “Milton W. Hamolsky” outstanding physician award.

Barbara was truly a renaissance woman. She was a talented sculptress, artist, knitter and basket weaver. She was generous with her time and a variety of charities benefitted from her philanthropy. After she retired, she spent part of each year in Maui, and she volunteered to be a teaching assistant at a Lahaina, Maui, grade school. She was an avid reader, opera lover and Broadway enthusiast. She embraced traveling the world. She particularly loved Italy and Hawaii. She excelled at baking and entered her chocolate chip banana bread at the Maui fair where she won second place.

She supported her beloved Boston Red Sox and attended over 150 games at Fenway. She was an enthusiastic golfer at the Ledgemont Country Club in Seekonk, Massachusetts.

Barbara was predeceased by her parents, Rose and Melvin Schepps. She is survived by her husband of 56 years, Dr. Richard Wong; daughter Dr. Deborah R. Wong (Dr. Todd Rothenhaus) and her cherished grandchildren Chris and James of Belmont, Massachusetts.

Barbara started her life in humble circumstances but worked tirelessly to become an outstanding physician. She helped many grateful patients and served as a mentor to a generation of young physicians and technologists. Hers is a story of a life well lived, always striving to achieve excellence.

The world has lost a dynamic force.

Contributions may be made to The Anne C. Pappas Breast Center c/o The R.I. Hospital Foundation, P.O. Box H. Providence, R.I. 02901 or Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation or Rhode Island Food Bank or the charity of your choice.

obituary, Barbara Schepps Wong