And they came, a surprising number of them, to say goodbye to a wonderful man. They came to a beautiful stone church nestled in a quiet neighborhood on the East Side of Providence. A neighborhood whhere the young Robert Barry slid down snow-covered hills and skated on pristine frozen ponds. Where he passed a long armed wicker basket among the communicants each Sunday morning at 9 am for forty years. Where he lived the life of a gentleman for 86 of his 90 years.
And we said goodbye with laughter and tears, and finally, with a full military salute as a young officer handed me a perfectly folded American Flag and with extraordinary grace informed me, “On behalf of the President of The United States, we thank Robert L. Barry for service to his country in the Second World War.”
It was a marvelous day. And here is what I had to say about my dear Uncle Bobby:
“It is good to be home here in a church which meant so very much to the Barry Family. Built in 1916, Our Grandfather Louis Barry was one of the builders of Saint Sebastian’s. Robert Barry served as an Usher here for 40 years.
He was, for most of my life, my elusive bachelor uncle. My earliest memories are of a Volkswagen beetle and my wonder that a man so tall could fit in a car so small. He was a teacher and a veteran and a constant guest at my mother’s dining room table, not a holiday missed. He loved the great writers, and Herman Melville was his favorite. He was like Ishmael: a man of the Sea.
It was not until the final years of his life, that I came to know the core of him.
Uncle Bobby was, in no particular order, Charming, stubborn, private, witty, sensitive, resolute, exasperating, and sentimental. He was, above all things, a gentleman and a gentle soul.
His Accountant, Attorney, Financial Advisor and notably, his cousin John Murphy were intimately aware of how very exasperating Uncle Bobby could be. No decision came quickly, no action moved upon swiftly. He was careful and cautious. All things on Uncle Bobby’s time. When he came to Connecticut to live his final year I came to understand this. Asking Bobby to move in a concrete direction was much like trying to drag an anvil through the sand with a piece of taffy. Make no mistake, he was captain of his ship til his final breath.
His charm was disarming. That was his secret sauce and he spread it around liberally. In the great battle he fought with his body this past year, he always had a reserve of charm. When he passed away, I received notes and calls from the care workers, mostly young women, mostly Hispanic. They spoke not of his death, but of the songs he might sing to distract from the intimacy of his care, the anecdotes he would share while they went about their noble work, or the questions he would ask them about their own lives. He had the charm of a true gentleman
As for me, this journey with Uncle Bobby was a great gift. In his suffering, I learned perspective. In his mounting challenges, I learned that patience and trust in the God are essential to finding peace.
He wrote in my elementary school autograph book, which I still have, “To Ellen, Miss America, and my very best girlfriend.” He remains one of the most memorable men I have ever known.”