Cover photo for Barbara Gene Hillyer's Obituary
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1934 Barbara 2024

Barbara Gene Hillyer

March 1, 1934 — March 9, 2024

Oklahoma City

Dr. Barbara G Hillyer died on March 9, 2024.


Barbara Gene Hillyer was born on March 1, 1934, in Creston, Iowa, to Grace (née Coy) and Murrell Newman Hillyer. Her mother died when Barbara was just three, and her father remarried the following year to Wanda Griswold, who lovingly raised her. She was six when her family relocated to Kansas City, Missouri, where her father managed movie theaters for fifteen years.


Upon completing high school, Barbara went on to earn an undergraduate degree at Rockford College, a master’s degree at Claremont Graduate University, and a doctorate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. After completing her doctorate in 1958, Hillyer traveled in Europe for more than two months before returning home to marry Robert M. Davis, a fellow alumnus from Madison. 


In 1962, when Robert was hired at Loyola University Chicago, the couple moved to Chicago, and Barbara began teaching at Mundelein College. Later, he was appointed to the University of California, Davis, where they moved together. By 1969, they were living in Norman, Oklahoma, with their three children, Megan, Jennifer, and John, and both Robert and Barbara were hired at the University of Oklahoma. At times, they jointly taught a course on marriage in English literature. After 20 years of marriage, she and her husband divorced.


Barbara became the founding chair of OU’s Women’s Studies Program in the 1980s.


She received an OU Regents Teaching Award in 1990 and went on to chair the Human Relations Department. She published many articles throughout her career and wrote Feminism and Disability, the first in its field; the book was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. In addition to her professional work, Barbara was a citizen activist in the Civil Rights Movement, the ERA Movement, and the Gay Rights Movement.


In 1995, Barbara became the life partner of poet, activist, and English professor Abigail Keegan. She retired from OU in 2001 to travel and to create beautiful, artistic quilts, as well as enjoy the company of her dogs, listen to her grandchildren’s stories, and practice Tai Chi.


She is survived by several very dear friends and by the family she loved deeply: her wife, Abigail Keegan, and Abigail’s family; her daughter and son-in-law, Megan and Don Davis Dey; and her son and daughter-in-law, John and Alex Davis. She also leaves behind four wonderful grandchildren, Brendan Davis Dey, Mia Davis Dey, Matthew Davis, and Lucas Davis.


Memorials may be sent to The Oklahoma City Homeless Alliance or

The Center of Family Love in Okarche, OK.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Barbara Gene Hillyer, please visit our flower store.

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