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A Eulogy for John E. Barnett

Delivered by Thomas P.M. Barnett
, 1 April 2004, Immaculate Conception Church, Boscobel Wisconsin.


On behalf of my family, I want to thank you all for joining us here today to celebrate John Barnett’s long and amazingly fruitful life—a life of love extended, commitments kept, and faith observed.

John Barnett was born in Boscobel, and lived the vast majority of his life in this town. This church is the only church where this ceremony could have been held, and you, his family and friends, are all that he would have asked for today.

John Barnett was a responsible, loving son to his parents, and played a large and loving role in the lives of his Aunt Catherine, his sister Mary and her family, and his sister-in-law Patricia and her family.

Lt. John Barnett, U.S. Navy, served his country overseas in time of war, acting as executive officer of an amphibious ship in the Pacific Campaign of World War II, and in time of peace, helping fellow sailors transition to civilian life during his tour of duty in the Pentagon’s Navy Annex following that conflict. As a veteran of foreign wars, he belonged to and actively participated in the American Legion throughout the rest of his days. And he was immensely proud of his three grandsons, one of whom couldn’t be here today, who likewise chose to serve this nation through military service.

John Barnett was married to Colleen Clifford for well over half a century. This loving union yielded nine children, two of which did not survive early childhood. These losses were great blows to this young couple, but in acts of deep faith and supreme optimism, they went on to have six more children, raising seven in all to successful adult lives. Those seven, in turn, are responsible for 12 grandchildren—and at least one granddaughter to be named later.

John Barnett was a lawyer, an attorney-at-law, for well over four decades. He saw his profession as way to help people, as his father had before him.

Our father’s strength was a quiet one, defined primarily by his unfailing ability to rise above his limitations in a never-ending effort to serve those around him.

Our father suffered from a multitude of small but trying physical ailments, yet somehow always managed to be at the office every day—decade after decade—serving for years on end as the sole provider for a family of nine.

Our father was an intensely private man, who nonetheless spent a lifetime actively seeking out and playing roles in this community that forced from him great levels of personal interaction with others: the Kiwanis, the Knights of Columbus, delegate to conventions of the Democratic Party, City Attorney, City Alderman, member of library board, cemetery board, Grant County Bar Association, Empty Stocking Club, fund drives for the hospital and this church—a man you count on showing up, every time, on time.

Quite shy by nature, John Barnett always made a point of engaging everyone he came across with the best sort of small talk—the kind that leaves people feeling better about themselves afterwards.

Not an outdoorsman, he nonetheless accompanied his sons on Boy Scout camping trips, and his daughters on canoe expeditions down the Wisconsin River.

Not much of an athlete, he nonetheless taught his children sports, and this son how to catch a football. John Barnett played golf for decades, and imparted his love of that sport to both children and grandchildren.

Not a particularly good driver (frankly, it was always an adventure every time that man put it in reverse), he nonetheless taught his children and my wife how to drive a car.

A man of modest talents, he did not seek to overcome them by pushing his children into activities they did not wish to pursue, and yet he was always there for such events, never missing a chance to see his kids, or his grandchildren, play in the game, appear in the play, be awarded some degree or promotion, or—most important to him—receive a holy sacrament.

Although not given to public displays of affection, he slowly and with great sincerity became a hugger in later life, welcoming new additions to his extended family over the years: a son-in-law, several daughters-in-law, all those grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and yes—all those dogs.

A child of the Great Depression, John Barnett was a frugal man, but really only with himself. With his wife, his children, and their children, he was unfailingly generous, subsidizing education after education to the point where all of his children—and his wife—hold advanced degrees that owe much to his financial support. Like with many of his most significant gifts to this community, he went out of his way to keep this role as anonymous as possible.

John Barnett lived a life of quiet inspiration. He loved sports, books, music, and theater. He shared these loves with us all, but even more importantly, by setting the example of these great passions, he generated a legacy of talented athletes, gifted scholars, skilled musicians, and insatiable performers.

Look around you, this man’s life raised few waves, yet somehow generated an enormous wake.

His was a life worth emulating: a life of great faith and generosity, a life of service to others, a life of simple joys. Our father couldn’t walk down a street without whistling, couldn’t pass a stranger without saying hello, couldn’t see a need without reaching into his pocket.

My Dad will always remain to me the man I hope someday to become.

My wife tells a story about hiding Easter eggs with Dad at some community event many years ago. He followed her around, constantly fussing over every single placement, carefully laying quarters in each. Then, as their task neared completion, he stuffed a host of extra eggs in the pockets of his sweater, telling her that these were for the kids who wouldn’t be able to find any on their own.

Thats the world John Barnett saw. 

This was his life.