As if this week weren't bad enough, my friend and colleague Barry Goldstein succumbed to cancer today. I received notice from another friend-and-coworker shortly after noon. If you looked up the phrase 'large and in charge' in a dictionary, there would be a picture of Barry next to the definition. He was calm, competent, and commanding... his mere presence was a bulwark during stressful times. His humor, his humanity, his devotion to others were comforting.
Barry had a background in facilities management, he managed a large manufacturing concern in the Bronx until the bottom fell out of heavy industry in the US. Before his illness, he was working two jobs, both of which he was overqualified for. A few years back, I had to write his evaluation and I approached the prospect with some trepidation... I felt like the manager of a junior college baseball team writing an evaluation of Hank Aaron. I ended up writing: "Barry has a by-the-book approach to the job and, with his experience, I suspect that he wrote the book." Barry wasn't shy about sticking to his guns no matter what upper management would say. Furnace malfunctioning in an outbuilding? Barry wouldn't allow anybody inside until someone with a carbon monoxide detector checked it out. Manager acting like a martinet and bawling out a subordinate? Barry called her out.
Barry was a perfect exemplar of civic virtue, he lived a life of service. He was a lieutenant in the county sheriff's department, which was an unpaid position. While much of it involved traffic control during events, he was also connected with the state Department of Environmental Protection. In one harrowing occurrence, he confronted a teenager brandishing a large kitchen knife during a fight in a fast food restaurant and got the kid to drop the knife so he could be apprehended and brought in for a psych evaluation. He was also a volunteer firefighter and, along with his wife, an Emergency Medical Technician for the local volunteer ambulance corps. He was unfailingly generous with his time and expertise. He was a good role model as well as a good friend.
He also had a way with animals, doting on his two dogs and our mutual friend Ginger. His knack with animals even extended to wild critters- I actually saw him reprimand an aggressive gander during the nesting/hatching season and, whether by sound or stance, got this goose to back off and calm down. It was just another of his talents.
Barry typically worked evening shifts, and I would come in early for the overnight shift to 'get the lay of the land'. The change of shift briefing usually involved shooting the breeze for half an hour or forty-five minutes, nerding out about astronomy, swapping recipes, exchanging information about favorite restaurants. Every once in a while, something unexpected would happen while we were conversing, and Barry would always respond with his typical good humor.
Even after getting his cancer diagnosis, Barry maintained his courage, grace, and humor. Having medical training and an engineering degree, he approached his illness like he approached all of the situations he encountered- he researched, he demystified the problem, he rolled up his sleeves and took the illness on. I thought he would beat this thing, we all thought he would beat this thing. None of us get out of here alive, but Barry gave us a good example of how to live. Today was a tough day, much of it spent getting the sad news out. Next week, we will gather for the memorial service and funeral. He would have wanted us to celebrate his life more than to mourn his death, so I will take my cues from him, and strive to be the bulwark of strength and compassion that will be needed... after all, he was a good role model.