Beatrice Barron wanted to travel the world, but her dentist husband was reluctant to take time off from work. Rather than waiting for him to retire, she boarded a plane for London alone, an unusual move for a woman in her 40s in 1959.
That turned into the first of many solo trips she took to locales as far-flung as India and Moscow. She found independent travel so rewarding that she urged other women to do the same.
“If you have a desire to try it . . . why not?” she wrote in 1979 for The Newton Times, a publication she helped launch. “Sure it’s going to feel awkward . . . getting along in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, but body language and pantomime go a long way.”
Mrs. Barron, who was known as Bea and had worked as a speech therapist, died of respiratory failure in her Brookline home June 15. She was 95 and had lived most of her life in Newton, where she had been a community activist.
“She was a very passionate woman in terms of whatever she was involved with at the time,” said her son Tom, a Boston artist. “It was from my mother that we all got a crazy and creative way of seeing the world.”
In the 1960s, he said, Mrs. Barron became involved with the civil rights and the antiwar movements and twice traveled by bus to Washington, D.C., to participate in protests.
“She was not a firebrand in any way, but she was a real motherly person to the people who were firebrands,” her son said, adding that “she was looking for justice, not a personal agenda.”
Her son Fred of New York City, a writer-producer for television, said Mrs. Barron’s activism was “more humanitarianism than politics.”
On the Washington trips, he said, she would persuade bus drivers to pull over so children could use the bathroom. When police sprayed protesters with tear gas, she was quick to provide aid.
Though she often took on the role of peacemaker, “she loved to be a provocateur,” Fred said. “An argument was never quite finished until she’d convinced you to agree with her.”
He added that she “was different from all the other kids’ moms. All our friends always wanted to hang out at our house.”
On a block of white and beige homes, she painted the family’s house in bright, eye-catching colors.
“We were the only ones on the street with a purple house, that’s for sure,” Fred said.
Inside, she created a home with a “lived-in feeling,” her son Jim, a writer, said in a eulogy.
“Her house became a bohemian caravansary, with her children, their friends, and even their friends’ friends arriving, staying, drifting in and out,” he said.
Beatrice Homonoff Barron was born and grew up in the North End, where her parents owned a fabric business she later helped run.
She studied drama at Emerson College and graduated in 1938 with a degree in speech therapy, which she helped introduce to schools in Brockton.
Three years later she met Joseph Barron at Nantasket Beach in Hull. They married in 1941. After she announced her engagement to colleagues, she was promptly fired, as was customary in those years for many female teachers.
Instead of being angry, she viewed the termination almost as “a source of pride,” Tom said. “Maybe she was discriminated against, but she always saw adversity as something to rise above.”
She continued in private practice as a speech therapist, with a specialty in aphasia, and volunteered in Newton activities such as producing and directing children’s plays, and serving on the board of Newton’s Jewish community center.
Mrs. Barron volunteered in Newton with arts groups, the fair housing initiative, and the NAACP. She marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when he visited Boston.
For The Newton Times, she went door-to-door to local businesses selling advertising. In 1974, she stopped at a boutique run by Usha Shah, who three years earlier had moved from India.
“I don’t know how it happened, but we had a strong bond from the very first day,” Shah said. “She said to me right then: ‘You are the daughter I never had.’ ”
Shah said that when her children were sick, Mrs. Barron would bring “a huge pot of chicken soup. She would say, ‘It’s a Jewish remedy.’ They loved it.”
In a eulogy, Shah’s son Umang said his family and the Barrons grew close because “my Mom needed a mother, as hers was far away in India, and Nana Bea lacked a daughter in her testosterone-filled home. My brother and I benefited by gaining a Nana.”
In 1978, the two women traveled to India, where Mrs. Barron embraced the culture and found a place in Shah’s family.
“She loved everything about India,” Shah said. “She traveled everywhere with us, and ate everything we ate. She especially loved wearing Indian clothes.”
Mrs. Barron, whose husband died in 1998, was immortalized in 2000 by her son Fred in “My Family,” a TV sitcom he produced for the BBC. He said he used his family as a model for the award-winning show, which ran 11 seasons and followed the antics of a British family led by “a cranky dentist and his wife, who thought she had the answers to everything.”
“I have to say, I built my career on Bea’s life,” Fred said with a laugh. “The best lines in the show were exact quotes, things she’d actually said.”
A service has been held for Mrs. Barron, who in addition to her three sons, leaves five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
“She had this idea that the mourners at her funeral should all have Magic Markers so they could write graffiti on her coffin,” Fred said. “That was her spirit. She was a whirlwind, a force to contend with.”