In Memoriam: Joanne Barkett Conway

Philanthropist's passion for supporting nursing leaves a strong legacy at GW.

February 6, 2024

GW Nursing students in simulation lab

GW Nursing students in a simulation lab at the school.

Members of the George Washington University community are mourning the loss of Joanne Barkett Conway, a noted philanthropist and owner of the Golden Door, a popular health resort. She died at age 75 on Jan. 8 at her home in McLean, Va., after a short illness.

Much of Mrs. Conway’s philanthropy focused on nursing. Support from the Conways has helped produce more than 7,000 nurses at 15 nursing schools at universities throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, GW Nursing among them.

The Conways have given more than $2.6 million to GW, primarily to establish the Transitioning Warriors Nursing Scholars Initiative in the School of Nursing. The initiative provides scholarships for military veterans enrolled in GW Nursing’s accelerated bachelor of science program. To date, 49 scholarships have been awarded to help veterans, like Elizabeth Kovacich and JustinPaul Joco, continue their service through a civilian career in nursing.

Associate Vice President and Chief Development Officer for Health and Medicine Jackie Wood noted that the Conways were particularly proud of providing a financial bridge for veteran nursing students to reenter the civilian workforce into a profession experiencing a critical shortage of qualified practitioners. “The Conways recognized this unique population has the experience and leadership skills to be successful, and that their service to their country makes them highly-deserving of assistance.”

GW Nursing Dean Susan Kelly-Weeder said she is “deeply saddened” by the loss of Mrs. Conway and remembered the impact she made.

“Mrs. Conway touched so many lives,” Kelly-Weeder said. “Her vision to support nursing students and specifically her commitment to military veterans was revolutionary. Together, Mr. and Mrs. Conway have transformed the lives of students here at GW and around the country, providing them the opportunity to pursue their calling in the field of nursing.”

President Ellen M. Granberg offered similar praise for the Conway legacy.

“Joanne Conway was a valued friend of the George Washington University,” said Granberg. “Her visionary commitment to advance educational opportunities for veterans entering the nursing field has had a life-changing effect on many.”

Elizabeth Kovacich
The Conways have given more than $2.6 million to GW, primarily to establish the Transitioning Warriors Nursing Scholars Initiative that helped veterans like Elizabeth Kovacich, B.A. '23, start a civilian career in nursing. (William Atkins/GW Today)​​​​​

In a nod to the fictional setting of the classic 1940s holiday film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the Conways named their family’s major avenue for giving the Bedford Falls Foundation.

Mrs. Conway became interested in assisting nursing students after a restaurant waitress shared details of her struggle to pay for a nursing degree.

Though she avoided the limelight, Mrs. Conway was recognized for her philanthropic work with several honorary doctorate degrees.

In addition to her husband, survivors include her sisters Elaine Joseph and Denise Pontius; six nieces and nephews, 14 grandnieces and nephews; stepson William E. Conway III and his wife, Brittany, and their three daughters.

To support GW Nursing students who have given so much to our country and continue to give, please consider a donation to the William and Joanne Conway Transitioning Warriors Nursing Scholars Initiative.