Born Barbara Diane Farrar, she was the daughter of an English immigrant father and a mother of Portuguese descent in New York City on December 6, 1946. Barbara Karkabi worked as a journalist for the Houston Chronicle for thirty years. She attended parochial schools in Manhattan and earned a bachelor's degree in English literature from Syracuse University in 1968. For several years Karkabi worked as a reservations agent for Pan American Airways, travelling extensively around the world, especially to the Middle East and Asia. While living in Beirut, Lebanon in the mid-1970s, she began writing for the English-language newspaper, Daily Star, covering the nation’s civil war. At one point Karkabi was briefly kidnapped with a busload of Japanese travellers by armed Palestine guerillas.
After leaving Beirut, she moved to London, England with her husband Tony Karkabi, a Lebanese travel agent. In London, Barbara worked as a freelance journalist before moving to Houston, Texas in 1977. Before joining the Houston Chronicle, Karkabi wrote for Suburbia-Reporter, a weekly suburban newspaper in the Houston area. In 1979 she began her career with the Chronicle generating feature stories on a variety of topics ranging from health to women and religious issues to trends in the city’s minority communities. An article she wrote in 1990 about river blindness garnered the attention of local philanthropist John Moores. In response to the story, Moores donated $25 million to an effort by a University of Houston optometry professor, William Baldwin, to distribute a highly effective drug to those in need.
Besides her work with the Chronicle, Karkabi also spent time engaged in women’s organizations. She was a long time board member of Friends of Women's Studies, a nonprofit that supports the University of Houston's Women's Studies program and wrote the first story about the Carey C. Shuart Women's Archive and Research Collection at the UH Library. Karkabi also helped found the Association for Women Journalists Houston chapter in the 1990s.
Karkabi passed away on Saturday January 28, 2012, leaving husband Mike Snyder, also a Houston Chronicle reporter and editor, and daughter Megan Snyder, both of Houston, Texas.