Augie alum and former CEO Brenda Barnes passes away

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Augustana College graduate and former CEO of Sara Lee, Brenda Barnes, has passed away.  She was 63 years old.

Barnes climbed the corporate ladder, made Fortune’s annual Most Powerful Women list, and was well known for balancing life as a career woman and a mom. According to a report by Fortune, Barnes headed Pepsi-Cola North America in the 1990s, but left the job in 1997 to raise her family.  During that time she stayed active in the career world, serving on several Fortune 500 boards.

In 2004 she started as president of Sara Lee, and moved to serve as the company’s CEO, Fortune reported.

At age 56, about six years into her CEO position, Barnes suffered a massive stroke while working out at a gym in the Chicago area, according to the report.  Barnes spent months in rehab learning to walk, speak, and do other day-to-day tasks.

Click here to read Fortune’s report on her recovery journey — “The Rehabilitation of Brenda Barnes”

Three months after her stroke, Barnes resigned from her position at Sara Lee.

In 2014 Barnes returned to Rock Island, Illinois to visit her alma mater. She led a lecture for students, talking about both her personal and business successes.

“You hold the keys to you more than anybody does,” she explained. “You now hold the keys to your life and you will make choices to guide them in a way that’s best for you.”

During that 2014 visit, she said Augustana was “near and dear” to her heart. And had certainly shown it, by helping to fund the PepsiCo Center and donating to Augustana’s Center for Student Life.

Barnes graduated from Augustana in 1975.

Fortune reported that Barnes had a second stroke on Sunday, January 15, 2017, and passed away at an Illinois hospital on Tuesday, January 17, surrounded by her children.

Click here to read Augustana Magazine’s May 2012 article on Barnes, illustrating her life, family, and business milestones