It’s with such a heavy heart and complete and stunned disbelief and deep sadness that I have to bid farewell to my good friend Dave Barber. I don’t want to. Because doing so makes me acknowledge that my “pally” is gone. It’s taken me several days and thousands of tears to process all of this. I’m not sure I ever will.
The part that gets me is that he was only 60. He had so much more to offer, so much more to live for. I know he was with friends when he had his medical crisis. I can only hope he was laughing just before it happened. Part of me thinks he was. He was posting on FaceBook that very morning about his trip back “home” to Flint (you can take the boy out of Flint, but you can’t take Flint out of the boy) and how happy and anticipatory he was to see all his old cronies again.
For whatever reason, I really thought Dave would somehow find a way out of his coma and come back to us. He couldn’t. I know he’s in a better place, hopefully singing with Frank Sinatra, eating good food, chasing the ladies, zipping around on a Vespa, catching up with his parents and getting some good beach time.
Davis (Swank’s name for David), our friend Dee (Swank – that’s Dave’s nickname for “Swanky Dee”) and I had agreed sometime back we’d meet at least quarterly, either in New York City or Providence, to tear up the town. Sadly, work and life and crazy schedules got in the way for all of us and we were never able to follow through.
We did it at least twice though. And we made the most of the time we spent together.
Our first adventure took us to night court in New York City: a combination of comedy, tragedy and bizarre reality. I took David and Dee because I knew they’d love the spectacle. I wasn’t wrong. Dave enjoyed himself so much we nearly got arrested for contempt of court because he couldn’t stop laughing, commenting and sneaking in photos. All major no-no’s in the court of law. The bailiff warned and yelled at him a few times. I figured, though, if we did get busted, there was nobody better than Dave to talk our way out of it.
Of course, Dave, who makes friends with everybody everywhere he went, shucked and jived with the court’s heavily armed guards. He had everybody laughing when I hit the door late, letting them know that his “very important friend and CBS News producer” was now joining his party.
After not getting kicked out of night court (there are miracles in this world, because seriously, we were this close) we made our way to a local bar where Dave immediately made friends with an unusual couple sitting at the next table. The guy claimed he was a very wealthy Long Islander. The woman, we surmised, was his mistress. She went by the name “Lucky.” In true Dave form, he started to basically interrogate them after the guy got boastful and arrogant. We all left as friends when the night was over.
Next morning, we went to church at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. As Dave would say, “you know the joint,” THE St. Pat’s. Dave conducted himself as a complete gentleman. Let’s just say I was a little nervous going in. I mean Dave Barber in church? I could only imagine. I could see he was bursting with pride at simply worshiping there. Church probably wouldn’t have be in the itinerary, except that Swanky Dee sings in the St. Pat’s choir. So we get into our church pew and first things first: Dave whips out his camera phone and starts snapping pictures. Yes, we prayed a little in between, too. As I look back, I’m surprised Dave didn’t try to corner Bishop Dolan for some chitchat (they have similar personalities). I think Fr. Tim would have loved that.
Getting to church was…a trip. I had Dave screaming and yelling in my little red Smart Car the whole way as I wove through NYC traffic to get us to the church on time. You can’t really drive like Mario Andretti in a 3-cylinder Smart Car, but I made my best effort. We made it to church just in time, but not without a lot of passenger-side driving advice (ahem, lectures) and admonishments from Mr. Barber.
Another time, we strolled through Bergdorf Goodman, a place none of us could afford. Yet Dave being Dave engaged himself with the various clerks. Quizzing them about this or that. Asking if certain cologne combinations would make him more attractive to women, etc. Posing bizarre questions just to see how they’d respond. And I remember lots of laughter. Dee and I just kind of stood back and watched with amused silence.
From there, to the Plaza Hotel, where we dropped in for some hot chocolate and to sort of crash someone’s wedding. What a nice afternoon we had. All three of us were just enjoying being together and hanging out in such beautiful surroundings. Then Dave decided we should start “touring” the premises. So of course, he’s making friends with the staff. Trading business cards, asking a million questions, getting them to sneak us into ballrooms and other places in the hotel that were closed to the public.
Then we’re off to one of those tourist electronics stores you see all over New York City, mostly near Times Square. Dave immediately engages with the sales clerk about this audio PA system that would allow him to sing at home. He’s crooning full blast in the store, talking a mile a minute, persuading this guy into thinking that he’s got a sure sale. Except he didn’t. But, quite honestly, these few years later, the guy is still probably waiting for Dave to come back.
We capped the evening with dinner at Patsy’s. THE Patsy’s, where Frank Sinatra held court. Dave had a special friendship with the owner, Sal Scognamillo, who is one hell of a chef. (Inserting a recommendation here: DAVE (and of course I) would encourage you to go to Patsy’s when you visit NYC. For the atmosphere, for the food and of course, for Sal and his family. You will NOT be disappointed. Patsy’s is on West 56th Street in NYC). Sal arranged for us to sit at Frank Sinatra’s favorite table. Dave was over the moon about it. Sal, as he always does, treated us very well and we had quite a night there. A several-hours long dinner interrupted by lots of laughter.
David wanted to see New York from high above, so he suggested we go to the top of the Empire State Building. It was his first time there, he was like a little kid. As I recall, the day was full of bright sunshine and a biting cold wind. Still, Dave was thrilled just to be there.
We ended the weekend with me driving Dave to Penn Station where he took the Amtrak home to Providence. We hugged and vowed to keep getting together because every time we did, we had a blast. I’m sorry we didn’t follow through, because hanging out with Dave was absolutely the best fun.
The guy always showed up dressed to the nines. No matter what the occasion. Calling Dave a snazzy dresser was like admitting Frank Sinatra sang a bit. No matter where we’d go, Dave would show up in a suit and tie and a starched white shirt. Perfect hair (like the Werewolf of London), beautifully manicured nails. The folks at night court thought he was one of the attorneys. I was afraid to encourage him, figuring he’d start to play the role right there in the courtroom to see how much he could get away with. One of the places we went people thought he was famous, seeing how he was dressed and how he carried himself. We played along and Dave ate it up.
I absolutely loved the guy, but it didn’t start out that way.
I knew OF Dave Barber beginning in high school in Grand Blanc when I’d babysit and he hosted some kind of late night public affairs show on Channel 25. I remember watching the show. Then fast forward several years later (I had moved away, then back to the market many years later) there was Dave on WFDF. Interviewing, yelling and challenging people on the radio. He terrified me (and I don’t scare that easily). I thought, “I never want to be on that guy’s bad side.”
But that was Dave. Always questioning, always challenging. He was an instigator extraordinaire and he got me going a time or two. He knew how to push my buttons to get me yelling at him at times. I think he did it just to see if he could. I didn’t know him really until just before I moved to New York in 2004. I ran into him at a few parties and had some nice, respectful conversations. I figured he couldn’t be all THAT bad. Time proved he definitely wasn’t.
Fast forward to 2006 or 2007 and Dave is calling me from Flint asking whether it was hard to go to a new city to start a new job at an advanced age in a place where you didn’t know anybody at all. He was considering a job at WPRO, Providence (and one of the northeast’s) most prolific talk radio stations. I had moved from Flushing, Michigan to New York City. He was considering a move from Flint to Providence. I assured him it was a good move. He was worried about his age. I told him not to sweat it. If I could pull it off, so could he.
We had a few more heartfelt and emotional phone calls. I remember one specifically where he confided he needed my help and I reminded him I was always there for him. Always.
He took the job. I sent him a “congratulations” card at his new place of work and it apparently floored him because he called the day he got it to profusely thank me for thinking about him and to confide that he was on top of the world and “scared to death” at the same time. He said that he was “just a Flint kid” who didn’t belong with the big boys. I told him he was WAY wrong about that and, again, not to sweat it.
The job didn’t last, but it true Dave fashion, this man bounced back and better than ever into his last job at the Rhode Island legislature.
THIS is where he hit his stride, made the big time in his (and our) estimation. Dave told me about a thousand times how much he absolutely loved his job interviewing the politicians and policymakers of Rhode Island. How much he enjoyed rubbing elbows with the famous folks who strolled through the halls of the state capitol building. Dave, at least as I knew and observed him, was never happier and I’m grateful that he had such loving, respectful and fun coworkers. His coworkers should know (and I’m sure they already do) that he had the utmost respect for them and that he appreciated and deeply loved them. He always talked about how honored he was to be allowed to work with them.
I am grateful to have had the privilege of spending time with Dave and getting to know him as I did. I’m thrilled he introduced me to Dee, who’s also a fellow transplant here in New York and we will always remain friends. All because of Dave.
Every year I’d receive a Christmas card from Dave with the envelope addressed in his exquisite handwriting and a little note. Boy will I miss that, too.
I have a big regret in that I was passing through Providence three weeks ago and I didn’t call him. Again, the schedule didn’t permit it. I figured I’d have a chance to catch up with him later this summer at his beach club at Bonnet Shores. Sadly, that won’t happen and I am deeply sorry about that.
That incident alone makes me reevaluate who I spend my time with and how I will relate to them in the future. Life is short. Dave drove that point home.
I loved Dave because he was so much fun and larger than life. We never had a dull moment together. He called ’em as he saw ’em and you always knew where you stood. Dave also could BS with the best of them. He was funny, gregarious, passionate, intelligent, respectful and just a thoroughly good person inside and out. The man had an enormous heart and soul. I’m glad I got past the intimidation I felt and let the true friendship flood in. I’m a very lucky woman. I wish I had more friends like Dave. True blue ones. The kind where you pick up right where you left off, regardless of your communication in between.
Dave was a character. He was like the goofy big brother I never had. He was a Teddy bear. He was self-deprecating. At times he was terribly insecure.
This Earth was better for having had Dave Barber as part of it.
I will miss him. I already do.
I still can’t believe it.
Thank you for being my friend.