Robert (Bob) Martin Barker; August 15, 1938 – June 14, 2020

Thom eulogizes his dad

Robert (Bob) M. Barker

I have been preparing my dad’s eulogy for years.

But when the call finally came at 9:02 p.m. on June 13 (12:02 a.m., June 14, his time), all those words went out the window.

His health had not been great for some time and every time I have been home to Ottawa over the past decade, on leaving I fully expected it might be the last time I would see him. But he hung on and had a reasonable to good quality of life until the very end.

When we all got together this past February for my son’s wedding, it was different. I think even he was pretty certain it would be his final send-off. Fortunately, for the first time in, I believe, seven years, all of my three siblings and I were together. We had a wonderful visit and a beautiful, professional family portrait taken.

When he dropped me off at the airport, I gave him a big hug and told him I loved him. That was no little thing and kind of awkward because my dad was not an openly affectionate man. That didn’t matter because it was his unwavering support for and encouragement of us in everything we did and who we are that told us he loved us all deeply.

Still, I felt like it needed to be done.

Three weeks ago, he was admitted to hospital with dangerously low blood pressure. I talked to him every day while he was there. He was very emotional. It was hard to take because I’ve never heard him like that in my entire life. His entire focus was on getting stable enough that he could get out of there and die at home.

Fortunately, he succeeded. I talked to him a few more times and my mom gave me daily updates. He was not physically well — tired, weak, emotional — but was still enjoying the things he loved, the irises and birds and squirrels in his garden, cooking, keeping up-to-date on politics and current events and engaging in intellectual pursuits.

On the day he died, he posted to Facebook about some research he was doing on the Cree language inspired by stories my brother-in-law had shared.

Still, every day during those last couple of weeks was like standing on railroad tracks, seeing the freight train coming, but not being able to get out of the way. I knew it had arrived as soon as I saw my mom’s phone number come up; she would never call me after midnight Eastern time.

If I’m being honest, I held a lot of resentment toward my dad for a long time for reasons that are now moot. That resentment made me a challenging teenager, to say the least.

But he stuck by me through thick and thin and I grew to admire and respect him more than anyone else I have ever known.

As director of international programs for the Canadian Teachers Federation, my dad travelled the world touching the lives of countless children implementing educational elements of Canada’s commitment to international development. His dedication and professionalism inspired my own confidence to get out into the world and try to do my best in all my endeavours, for which I am grateful.

He was a product of a different time when corporal punishment was the norm. And although I got a few lickings when I was young, he broke that cycle early on, which taught me critical thinking and to have the courage and insight to change my convictions in light of better evidence.

Sometimes he got pretty creative about it. When I was around 12 or 13, he grounded me — almost certainly justifiably — and I made the mistake of telling him it wasn’t fair. He said fine, you’re not grounded, instead, write me a 500-word essay on justice.

Of course, doing the research for the paper taught me a lot about justice, and about writing (because he actually marked it), but more importantly, it taught me to make sure I could back up my opinions.

He was the most principled of human beings, committed to universal education, equality, social justice and fundamental freedoms such as free speech.

When a bunch of my friends and I ran a mock election campaign in high school and I got suspended for putting up satirical posters in the library, he was not impressed. Sorry, I don’t remember what the content was, something about the school constitution, which we, of course, had not even read. Again, it was a lesson in not going off half-cocked.

Nevertheless, he defended my right to free expression, no matter how ill-informed he thought it was. He fought the school board, got my suspension cancelled, my record expunged and an apology from the principal.

He eschewed censorship.

When the school board banned Catcher in the Rye, he bought me a copy. When he found out the edition of Hamlet we were studying in Grade 12 had missing scenes someone decided were too racy for high schoolers, he gave me his edition from university.

He lived what he believed.

When an opportunity with an international teachers organization in Switzerland presented itself, he left the decision to a family vote, even though he wanted to take the position. Democracy.

When an airline he had been using for work travel for decades, offered him a flight for two anywhere in the world, he turned it down. Integrity.

He and my mom took a trip anyway, but he paid for it himself. Self-sufficiency.

If I had the rest of these pages to go on, I could fill them.

Suffice it to say, he was a great guy. He treated everyone with dignity, respect and compassion.

Anybody even remotely connected to one of us, he treated as family. My lifelong friends think of him as a second dad. My ex-wife, (my children’s mom) still thinks of him as a father-in-law. Her daughter by her second husband calls him grandpa.

I can’t even count the number of well-wishes that have poured in since June 14.

To steal a line from one of my brothers’ tribute to my dad: If I end up half the man he was, I will consider my life well-lived.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Single-engine aircraft crashes near Telkwa

Two occupants of the plane sustained minor injuries and were transported to hospital

Search on for mushroom picker missing from near Kitwanga

Tommy Dennis was last seen Sept 16 wearing blue jeans, black cap, rubber boots, grey checked sweater

Northwest firefighters headed to Oregon to battle wildfires

Over 200 B.C. firefighting personnel will assist in the U.S.

Cullen announces bid for provincial NDP nomination for Stikine riding

Current MLA Donaldson not seeking re-election

Another Telkwa councillor calls it quits

Councillor Rick Fuerst is the second Telkwa council member to hang up his hat since the 2018 election

3 new deaths due to COVID-19 in B.C., 139 new cases

B.C. confirms 40 ‘historic cases,’ as well

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

The court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington

Emaciated grizzly found dead on central B.C. coast as low salmon count sparks concern

Grizzly was found on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw territory in Smith Inlet, 60K north of Port Hardy

VIDEO: B.C. to launch mouth-rinse COVID-19 test for kids

Test involves swishing and gargling saline in mouth and no deep-nasal swab

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Young Canadians have curtailed vaping during pandemic, survey finds

The survey funded by Heart & Stroke also found the decrease in vaping frequency is most notable in British Columbia and Ontario

B.C. teachers file Labour Relations Board application over COVID-19 classroom concerns

The application comes as B.C.’s second week of the new school year comes to a close

CHARTS: Beyond Metro Vancouver, COVID-19 cases in B.C. haven’t increased much recently

COVID-19 case counts outside of Metro Vancouver have been level since July

70-year-old punched in the head in dispute over disability parking space in Nanaimo

Senior’s turban knocked off in incident at mall parking lot

Most Read