A Man To Remember

Marlene Barth

© Copyright 2003 by Marlene Barth


Photo of a map showing Charleston, West Virginia.

In 1972 (can't believe it has been that long) I met my brother-in-law for the first time. My husband, Al, was a VP for a construction company in Tennessee, and I had been his secretary for about 2 years when he was transferred to open the Memphis office.

The door opens wide, and this large man, with an even larger voice, came through the door. Mischievous smile on his face, he booms "Where's my Brother!" I had never met this person, but before I could ask him who he was, my husband came up the hall and threw his arms around him. The man, was Jim, Al's eldest brother whom I had expected to meet later that day. I thought he was the loudest, most overbearing person I had ever met. My opinion was soon to change.

Jim, his wife, five of their six children, and Duchess, their English Bulldog, had come to visit us for the weekend. Our home was soon to be alive with activity with our combined 10 children. Duchess also attributed to the excitement by immediately falling into the pool. She survived her sudden swim.

We had so much fun that weekend, that we tried to spend time together each year. Everyone enjoyed golf, and going to the Danny Thomas Open became a tradition. Jim always kept the group lively with his jokes and good humor. He even liked to cook which was a great joy to me.

Jim and Al had three other siblings and Jim kept the families close with phone calls and funny greeting cards. Through the years, the brother's wives or their sister's husband passed away. On each occasion, a trip was scheduled to cheer the one with the loss. One year we spent at Harper's Ferry, and Jim, with his "boom box" voice, skipped along rocks in a stream near our cabins, singing "Indian Love Call". He was serenading his wife. When he slipped on a rock, on a high note, we all laughed until we cried. When it was Jim's wife that died, we went with him and a daughter to Aruba. Jim and his wife were devoted to each other, and deeply in love throughout their long marriage. Even with his insufferable loss, Jim was upbeat at all times.

Jim continued to inquire on everyone and kept all in the family informed on everyone's health and general life matters. He was everyone's caretaker.

Over time, Jim became an ill man. He was diagnosed with hyperglycemia, (how he loved his homemade candies and Little Debbie's), leukemia, heart problems, Parkinson's disease,bone and prostate cancer. He was constantly being rushed to the hospital with pneumonia. He was no longer the healthy, robust man we knew. With all these problems, he still joked and always had a smile and a good word.

Two months ago, he said that he wanted to come see us. We picked him up at the airport, and were not prepared for how much he had changed. We never knew how ill he really was until that moment. We watched the attendant wheel him towards us, and what was the first thing he said: "There's my little brother!" and yes, his voice was just as loud, probably louder, because now he was hard of hearing.

Due to all his medications, he was grossly overweight, and unless you insisted on his good conduct, he would eat all the improper foods. He wanted to do two things while he was visiting. One was to go to Warren Robbins Air Force Base. Both brothers were in the Air Corp during World War II and he wanted to see his old plane. He and Al had a great time being together, but unfortunately the Base was a disappointment to them both. The second thing was to attempt a game of golf. Al and our son-in-law took him to a club, and he tried so hard, even he could hardly stand. He got up to the first Tee, took one swing at the ball, and that was all he could do. He came back to the house, his arms were black and blue, and he was very tired. He said he just had to try one last time to swing a club.

He was feeling fine when he bid us farewell and it had been a wonderful two weeks. Upon his arrival at his hometown airport, however, his wheelchair hit a hollow on a ramp, and he was thrown out, hitting his head and damaging both knees. His daughter had just left him for a few moments to check on his luggage. In the world we live in today, not one person came to help him.

Over the next few weeks, when we spoke to him on the phone, we began to notice a difference in his speech. He fell out of bed one evening, and was rushed to the hospital. It was found that he had a cancerous tumor behind his right eye. His doctors decided to operate and after surgery, he said that he felt better than he had in a long time. He wanted to go home. He missed his dog Norman-- yep, another English bulldog--and wanted to come home by Thanksgiving. The doctors felt that this might be possible.

He didn't come home Thanksgiving. In the hospital he had contacted a blood staph disease in both arms and they swelled to three times their size. Doctors worked for days, trying to get rid of the swelling, puss, and the horrific pain.

His arms improved and he sounded like the old Jim. Everyone prayed he would be home by Christmas and start the radiation for his brain tumor.

He still couldn't use his legs very well and the doctors felt like he should have a few weeks of rehab to help strengthen his limbs. Then his kidneys began to give him problems and he couldn't urinate on his own. Another week passed and this problem cleared up. Christmas came and went. He had been in the hospital for 62 days. They started his radiation, and thought he was becoming depressed and gave him medication for that. He never sounded depressed, but then, that was Jim.

Four of his children had come by to see him the night before he was to begin physical therapy and brought fried chicken with them. They all sat around his room and laughed and reminisced and said they were so glad he was finally coming home.

The next morning, I received a call that Jim had gone to physical therapy, took one step, fell to the floor, and was pronounced dead. His eldest daughter, who was his caretaker, said "Who will I take care of now?"

People complain about so many petty things. Thinking about this man, always upbeat, with such a desire to live and love, a great lesson could be learned from him. I know I am proud to have known him.

I wrote a note to the West Virginia Paper and it read like this: JAMES JOSEPH BARTH. Just a name to some, but a friend to many the 82 years that he lived in Charleston. The bottom line is: West Virginia has lost one of their best. Jim's second love, next to his wife and children was his home: West Virginia. There will never be another person with such love in their heart for a state. When we visited him the first time, he, and his family took us around his beloved state, and when I returned to Florida, I was in tears. I didn't want to leave. I still feel sad and happy when I play "Country Road".

He was a veteran of the Army Air Corps, serving time in China, Burma Theater, a member of the Knights of Columbus, Elks Lodge and past president of the Kanawha Coin Club. He made the most delicious and beautiful candies you have ever seen and gave them all to his friends.

He was a VP with the George Washington Insurance Company on Kanawha Blvd., then be became the owner and operator of Barth's Appraisal, doing work for the State and private companies for 40 years. He was a familiar sight when he ate at the HUB on Quarrier Street. His wife, his soul mate, Joyce Barth and they raised six children: Joyce, Jim, Jeff, Judy, Jennifer and John. His children were all with him when he died, suddenly, January 2nd.

Charleston has truly lost a friend. You could never get him out of the State, and you could never get the State of West Virginia out of his heart.

Never heard a word from the paper. After a person dies, what does the public care who he was. I had to write it. It had to be said what a fine, upstanding, human being lived in that part of the world. Jim's booming voice will never be heard again, but will live on in the hearts and minds of all who loved him. He will never be forgotten.

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