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I sat across from Dr. Peter Barry’s desk, my notebook on my lap, facing my final exam in his history course.
And I felt as prepared as I could ever be – besides, I could use any notes I’d taken to back up my answers.
Dr. Barry asked the first question.
I took a deep breath and opened my notebook to confirm my answer.
And then I looked up – shocked and agitated.
“Dr. Barry, I brought the wrong notebook,” I said.
He raised his eyebrows, adding to my frustration.
“So, what did you bring, Barbara? Your grocery list?” he said.
“No, no,” I said.
But the more I tried to explain, the more I fumbled over my words. I looked like an animated cartoon character as I pleaded my case.
Dr. Barry patted his hands on his desk, closed his book and looked me straight in the eyes.
“Barbara,” he said in his unique raspy voice. “This is an Erma Bombeck moment.”
And we laughed.
I thought about that incident Friday when I heard Dr. Barry had died.
Diffusing a hectic situation was just one of the professor’s many skills. I was one of more than 14,000 students he taught in his 37 years at USCL. Other students share the same admiration for the USCL professor.
“Dr. Barry exemplified the true ideal of what and who a college professor should be,” Tim Boling wrote in an online comment. “Peter, Mary (Barry’s wife) and their entire family have worked diligently, without herald, contributing to the advancement of Lancaster County.”
Others said there is a “huge void left at USCL” and that Dr. Barry was “an asset to the community.”
“He was a quiet man who could teach a lot if you would just listen when he did speak,” another wrote.
Dr. Barry’s priorities were his family, education and public service. And in that order. His intellect, humor and compassion were evident in every role he served.
And he served many roles.
He was an active member of St. Catherine Catholic church, a member of Lancaster County School Board, CareNet, Discovery School Advisory Board and Lancaster High School Improvement Council, just to name a few.
He never forgot the less fortunate and society’s castaways. He was a former president of the Mental Health Association and served on the Prison Ministry team.
Inmates considered him their friend, said Father David Runnion at Dr. Barry’s Mass Tuesday.
Many people in the community praised Dr. Barry’s role in education.
“Education was more than just a career for Peter Barry,” Father Runnion said. “To him, education was a calling.”
I realized that was true as I observed the rituals of a Mass of Christian Burial. Though I was raised a strict Baptist, I have been known to grace the thresholds of Presbyterian, Methodists, Episcopal, AMEZ, Freewill Baptist, ARP, Lutheran and other churches.
But I’ve never been inside a Catholic church. Never was invited. Had it not been for Dr. Barry’s death, I might not have witnessed a Catholic Mass, an experience I truly appreciate.
But education, like life, is learned in daily doses.
One of my professors in Columbia, had a favorite saying, “It’s a sad, sad day when you don’t learn something new.”
Dr. Peter Barry was true to his calling – to the end.