By Nancy Gier, Special to the Tribune
Alison O'Hara Barasa
After stints as an attorney in both the public and private sectors, Alison O'Hara Barasa joined the family business and went on to become the first female chairman of Follett Corp. in its nearly 140-year history.
Mrs. Barasa joined Follett as senior counsel in 1999 and worked in litigation, contracts, employment and benefits. The company supplies educational materials to schools and is based in River Grove.
Mrs. Barasa became Follett's chairman in 2011 and gained a reputation as a catalyst for change and an innovator in moving the company forward in digital content and technology, despite battling breast cancer, colleagues said.
"Her tenure will be viewed as a pivot point in the company's next 140 years," said Mary Lee Schneider, Follett president and CEO.
Mrs. Barasa, 50, died of complications from breast cancer Saturday, July 20, at Midwest Palliative Care in Glenview, according to her husband, James Barasa. She was a resident of Glenview.
Schneider sat on Follett's board with Mrs. Barasa for more than 10 years.
"She pushed us to look at everything differently. She invited discussion and she felt that the best decisions were made through conversation," Schneider said. "She challenged how the family was involved with the business. There were no sacred cows with Alison."
Mrs. Barasa also served as Follett's acting president and CEO after her cousin Charles Follett retired in 2012. Schneider took over as president and CEO this year.