My Friend Barry
I first met Barry in the mid-80’s while working as the secretary for the President of a limousine company in the town where I grew up, a suburb of Dallas. My boss, Charles was the newly appointed President of the National Limousine Association based in Washington, DC. Barry, a man nearly twice my age and also serving on the board lived near the Associations’ headquarters and would routinely call to discuss issues with my boss. When Barry would call he would exuberantly say “Good morning!!!” and you could tell from his voice and tone that it really was!
Being a young mother of two small daughters, often it was well up into the day before my morning felt “good” to me. Usually fatigued from the daily routine of getting dinner the night before, baths, making lunches, helping with homework, and then getting up early to rush the girls off to school and drive the 20+ miles to work in traffic, I would be doing well to muster up a smile, much less any enthusiasm, yet Barry’s calls would always rejuvenate me.
As time went on, I found myself anxiously awaiting his phone calls. He would always ask about my family and before long he knew as much about my family as my closest friends. He would be genuine in his interest to hear how the girls were doing as well as my husband, Bill.
His laughter was contagious and his zest for life always made me glad he called. Barry spoke of his family too, a wife of many years, children and his most recent family addition, a grandson. You could tell from our conversations that he not only loved life, but also his family. In the spring of ’88 his work with the Association would bring him to Dallas. When he called to tell me the news that he would, at last, get to meet me in person, I was ecstatic! I had long wondered what he looked like and wanted to see for myself if that enthusiasm on the phone was indeed something that was the ‘real deal’.
Barry arrived some weeks later and chose to stay over on Saturday to see some of the Dallas area. He had asked if Bill, the girls and I were up for showing him around and I jumped at the opportunity, saying “yes” without first checking with the family.
As it turned out, there was a softball tournament that Saturday and Bill, being an assistant coach, could not get out of attending it. Feeling bad that I had already accepted the invitation to show him the city, I begged off from sitting in the stands for hours watching teams of children play softball (none of which included my own) and said nothing to Barry of the change in plans.
On that Saturday we were to meet at his hotel for brunch. His treat! When I arrived alone he was hugely disappointed that the girls and Bill were not with me. I explained the circumstances and he asked if we could include a trip to the ball fields as part of our excursion that day and I agreed. Little did I know that the events of that day would change me forever!
Barry was a gentleman in every sense of the word and his attitude and humor kept me entertained throughout the entire day – one surprise after another. However, it was the way he treated others that would remain with me and alter my ways of thinking for a lifetime.
It started first with the waitress at brunch. He made sure he knew her name and called her by it throughout the morning meal, but it didn’t stop there. He complimented her on the tiniest of tasks and genuinely showed an interest in every part of her job. When she warmed up to us, his humor kicked in. When she asked if we were from out of town, he remarked that he had flown in because we were getting married that afternoon! He continued by asking her if she didn’t agree that I was the most beautiful woman in the world and wouldn’t I make a lovely bride for him.
Obviously, the waitress didn’t know what to say seeing that we were years apart in age, so she smiled and agreed with him. He went on with his charade as I sat smiling and listening to his ridiculous story. All the while he made it remarkably believable. When she walked away, I laughed and told him how crazy he was and he laughed just as hard as I.
Throughout our meal our waitress would provide the best of service, coming to check on us regularly and offering anything that she could possibly bring us. It was obvious that she couldn’t get enough of Barry and his outlandish story and every time she appeared at the table, he added to it even going so far as to invite her to the ‘wedding’ that afternoon.
It was hard to contain myself as I wondered what he would do if she accepted. I could tell from that first experience I was in for a day full of surprises and Barry didn’t disappoint me. After walking out into the lobby, still laughing about his charade with the waitress, we encountered the hotel custodian, an elderly black man with graying hair and a demeanor so low I sensed immediately that he wanted to be invisible. As he polished and cleaned the lobby tables and doors we stood talking about the day’s agenda.
Barry wanted to run up to his room and get his sunglasses and I told him I’d wait there in the lobby for him. We were standing near the elevator and the custodian had made his way over to clean out the ashtrays. I remember them being the ones with the sand on the top that, when freshened up, had the hotel’s logo pressed into the clean sand.
Barry went into action! He greeted the elderly custodian with the warmest “hello, good morning, sir” that I have ever heard – much like that between two long lost friends at a chance meeting. The custodian smiled and softly returned a shy “hello” back as he continued with the ashtrays. Barry was relentless.
“How are you (waiting for his name) today?” The old man replied, “Oh, fine”.
“And what is your name, sir?” The old man replied with his first name, Henry.
“Well, Mr. Henry.” Barry began. “No, sir, that’s my first name, Henry. Me’s last name is Turner”, was his reply.
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Turner”, Barry said. Mr. Turner now smiling and standing a little straighter and taller turned to look towards me. I returned the smile, waiting to see what was in store for us both from Barry.
He continued. “Mr. Turner, how long have you worked for the hotel?” he asked.
“Oh, nearly five years now” came his reply.
“And do you take care of this beautiful lobby all by yourself, or do you have help?”
Barry continued to pry. “No sir, I do it all by myself, ain’t got no helpers, don’t need nobody, I likes doing it real nice by myself” he answered.
Barry then walked towards the ashtray he had just finished restoring to perfection. “Mr. Turner, how do you get that logo in the sand like that, I have often wondered how it’s done and you’re the first person I have ever seen who could actually tell me.” Mr. Turner, now standing tall and confident walked over to the next ashtray and proceeded to show Barry the tricks of the trade so to speak. He carried a rubber stamp in his supplies that when pressed into the smoothed out sand made the logo prominent. “Jest like that, sir”, was Mr. Turner’s reply.
Barry studied the logo in the sand intently and turned to Mr. Turner and remarked, “well, I’ll be – that is impressive if I must say so – and that must take practice to get it right in the center and make it stand out like that – yes, a real art I’d say”.
Barry had turned his total and complete attention to the aging custodian, showing him a genuine interest in these mundane tasks and Mr. Turner was thriving on the attention he was getting. The elevator arrived and Barry went up. The elderly custodian began to whistle a little tune as he continued his cleaning and when he got to the next ashtray, he stood looking at his work as an artist does upon completing a masterpiece.
Sitting silently in the lobby glancing through a magazine I began to take it all in. I marveled at the changes that had come over Mr. Turner – he walked tall now to the next ashtray, his head held high, a smile on his withered face and he whistled softly – a transformation made in only moments by an act of respect and a few spoken words.
The remainder of the day proved to be more of the same as we visited historical locations, shops and even the ball fields where we found the girls and Bill intently watching the softball tournament. Everywhere we went Barry made the people he encountered feel like they were the owner or president of their company, or could be! His enthusiasm and concentrated interest in whatever they were doing brought smiles and opened conversation everywhere we went.
Later that night, alone with my thoughts, I replayed the video in my mind of Barry making small talk with total strangers standing near us in a line, the waitress, Mr. Turner and even the way he reacted when meeting my family. What a difference he made in the lives of those he would never meet again, whose day was made more special because of a word, a smile, a story.
I closed my eyes and thought to myself, I want to live my life just like Barry – making those I encounter feel important everywhere I go! The following year, the limousine company I worked for declared bankruptcy and closed its doors. I was handed the word processor on my desk as payment for my last two weeks at work.
School was about to end for summer vacation and I decided to take that time to enjoy it with the girls and think of what I would do next. Barry stayed in touch with me, making sure I would be all right in light of my sudden loss of work and income. I assured him I was fine and that I would bounce back come September when school started back and that I would find other employment.
It was then that Barry began to encourage me to start my own business – he reminded me that I had the knowledge and personality to be successful and now I had an expensive tool by which to get started – the computer. At first, it seemed more like the story of us getting married that day – totally ridiculous – but he wouldn’t let it go.
As we continued to converse over the summer it became more and more evident that he was right – I could do it! I spent the summer gearing up for my new company, “Secretarial Solutions” and on the first day of school while dropping the girls off I heard a knock on my van window. I rolled down the glass and a gentleman asked for my business card.
Puzzled, I asked, “What business card?” forgetting the signs on the side of our van advertising my new business. He smiled, “Isn’t this your van?” “Yes,” I replied and then snapped to what he meant and scrambled to find my new business card to hand him. He became my very first customer!
For the remaining four years my business grew and I thrived. Barry was there for me each time I needed advice or direction and always for encouragement. Whenever I found an opportunity – which was daily – I put into action what Barry had shown me – and even today it is the standard by which I live.
Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to Barry Locke, and then I smile knowing if he isn’t still here on earth making people feel important, he is surely in heaven making up stories to entertain the angels!
By Linda Hastings
Meditation: A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, But by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken. – Proverbs 15:13
You will succeed because Jesus loves You!