Keith Barber (1941 – 2020)

service Saturday, January 25, at 11 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church, ALB

If you read the comments about Keith Barber on his Facebook page, you’d detect a common theme. He was kind, gentle, friendly, compassionate, gracious, funny, loving – that’s about right.

Keith was a strong supporter of equality and social justice. As an ordained deacon and elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA), he worked for years for full inclusiveness in the church. At our church, First Presbyterian of Albany, he chaired the committee on Social Justice and Peacemaking.

Quite recently he posted on his Facebook ‘The Slaves Dread New Year’s Day the Worst’: The Grim History of January 1. His comment: “A bit of Truth that my own white privilege has previously deprived me of knowing.”

Keith Barber could be a raconteur. He told stories about his time in radio broadcasting, including at WROW in Albany. He shared details with me of stories that took place in the Capital District that took place before I got here. Notably, there was a plane crash in an Albany neighborhood in the early 1970s, which he talked about in astonishing detail more than 30 years later.

Keith was a booster of New York, especially upstate. His Quora page made that quite clear. Although he moved to Florida for a time, he belonged in this region.

The train, the bus

His fondness and support for public transportation was very evident. We shared a love of rail travel, though he did so more than I. Keith became the first public relations officer at Capital District Transit Authority. I’d see him occasionally on the bus, counting people or taking surveys.

The church attempted a Thursday evening Bible study almost a decade ago. Though it started with a half dozen folks, it eventually dwindled down some weeks to just the two of us. Naturally, Keith pulled out his Message Bible written by Eugene Peterson.

Keith LOVED reading from Peterson, because it was “designed to be read by contemporary people in the same way as the original koiné Greek and Hebrew manuscripts were savored by people thousands of years ago.” Genesis 1:1 reads: “First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see.”

If I’m particularly saddened by Keith’s passing, it’s that, less than a month ago, he “graduated” from getting chemotherapy. It’s likely that the chemo helped create the situation that ultimately killed him, if I understand correctly.

There will be a service for Keith Barber on Saturday, January 25, at 11 a.m. in the First Presbyterian Church, 362 State St., Albany. All are welcome to celebrate a life well lived.

The black funeral home in history

In this case, you’re Chester Miller, a funeral director, and a family is in need of your services.

Indianapolis-Recorder-November-5-1938-Hoosier-State-Chronicles
Indianapolis IN Recorder-November 5, 1938
In response to a reference question, I discovered that 10% of undertakers/morticians/funeral directors were African-American in 2016. But that fact doesn’t get to the historic import of the black funeral home.

US Funerals notes: “In the United States there is a rich cultural heritage of black-owned and operated funeral homes. Indeed black funeral parlors were some of the first businesses to be set up by African-Americans after the abolition of slavery.”

Funeralwise agrees: “Since few white undertakers would serve the African American community, black undertakers created independent businesses to fill the need. During the Civil War black soldiers were often assigned to burial details, recovering and burying the dead, but also assisting with keeping death records and finding ways to preserve remains to be sent home to other parts of the country for interment…

“These experiences prepared many soldiers for work in the burial industry, not only allowing them to serve their brothers and sisters in their time of grief but also allowing them to preserve numerous funeral customs associated with their African heritage.”

Edwin Jackson, a licensed black funeral director, and embalmer, shares a more recent history: “The local sheriff is on the other end and says he needs you to pick up a body… You’re used to putting your evenings and sleep on hold. In this case, you’re Chester Miller, a funeral director, and a family is in need of your services. Today you have been called to pick up a body that was found floating in the Tallahatchie River. You arrive on the scene and immediately you see the battered, broken, and decomposed body of a young boy…

“I use this story surrounding Emmett Till’s death to show how death has been used as a catalyst within the civil right movement and emphasize the role black funeral directors have played in such movements. Sixty years later, we see the maturity of a new movement that now flies under the banner of Black Lives Matter. We also see a new generation of black funeral directors… looking to support our community in the undertaking of such movements.”

While cultural changes are hitting black funeral homes, the institution has long been a business of loyalty, especially in the South. When they died, both my parents were tended to by the nearby African-American mortician in Charlotte, NC.

There is a group, the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association, founded in 1924. Though by 1957 it had taken on the new name, its history makes clear that it is geared to the black funeral director.

Rev. Robert Pennock (1926 – 2019)

The funeral of Robert Pennock will be on Saturday, February 16 at our old stomping grounds, Trinity UMC.

Bob PennockThe third funeral I will sing at this calendar year is for the Rev. Robert Pennock.

At the FOCUS churches service in early February, I happened to be sitting behind Nancy, an alto at Trinity United Methodist Church in Albany. I used to sing with Nancy there until 2000 and “the troubles.”

Nancy enjoyed my familiar voice behind her. It prompted me to say that back in the 1990s, that Trinity choir was really good. And Bob Pennock was a large part of that.

I generally sat near Bob in the choir loft. When I joined the ensemble in early 1983, my choir singing skills were rusty. As the bass soloist and section leader, he was quite helpful in getting me on track.

He and his wife Holly often hosted choir functions at their home. I watched his younger kids, David and Jessica, grow up in the church.

There was a move at Trinity in 1997 or early 1998 to consider changing the organizational structure of Trinity. It was allowed by the United Methodist governing body. But it was Bob who rightly said, “Where are the checks and balances?” The proposed plan, it seemed, gave too much power to the pastor.

As a minister ordained the year I was born, he immediately recognized the potential for usurpation of congregational authority. He voiced what I, who had served as chair of the Administrative Board, had only been thinking.

Someone said, “Give [the new structure] a chance,” and it was passed. Just as predicted by Bob, the pastor achieved more control without accountability, which led to my departure and that of others less than three years later.

I would see Bob only sporadically after that, including at least twice at a small rural church he served as pastor in the early 2000s.

The funeral of Robert Pennock will be on Saturday, February 16 at our old stomping grounds, Trinity UMC. We will sing two John Rutter pieces, The Lord is My Shepherd from the Requiem, and The Lord Bless You and Keep You, music I first learned while I was singing with Bob and Holly.

Cousin Donald Yates (1943-2016)

donaldyates
Donald Yates was my late mother’s first cousin. As I explained when his brother Robert died last year, they, their late older brother Raymond (d. 1978), and their older sister Frances were my mother’s closest relatives, though Raymond, the oldest, was a decade and a day younger than Mom.

They lived in Binghamton, until their dad Ernie died suddenly in 1954, when Charlotte and the kids moved to St. Albans, Queens in New York City. The Greens would go down and the Yates would come up at least annually. Their kids, including Don’s’s kids Donnie and Tanya, were the closest relatives my siblings and I had, even though they were a decade or more younger than us.

My late father arranged the flowers Continue reading “Cousin Donald Yates (1943-2016)”

The winter of my discontent

Friday the 13th, my lovely bride got up at 4 a.m. and drove me to the train station.

tired.ferretIt’s cold, it’s snowy, but it’s also winter in upstate New York, so I’m not one to complain. (I save my vexation about the weather for the summer.)

So the stuff outside is not specifically bothering me, though if I were to, it would sound like The Grounds for Violence – Key of Bart. People who don’t shovel their walkways, ESPECIALLY at the corners, and make it difficult to walk; now THEY really bug me.

I did fall down outside recently, trudging through the white stuff, Continue reading “The winter of my discontent”