Doctor, family man, puzzle enthusiast. Born Oct. 29, 1939 in London, Ont.; died suddenly while travelling in Kelowna, B.C., on Oct. 22, 2013, of a pulmonary embolism, aged 73.
Robert Murray Barr was born and raised in London, Ont. His father, Murray Llewellyn Barr, was a respected medical researcher who was nominated for a Nobel Prize in medicine for his co-discovery of the sex chromatin, which was later labelled the “Barr body” by the scientific world. Robert followed the family trade and became a successful practising physician who preferred the patient interaction to the research focus of his father.
Along with his career in hematology, Robert went on to become a professor of medicine at the University of Western Ontario as well as director and assistant dean of postgraduate education, and served as medical director of the London Centre Canadian Blood Services for 35 years.
Although his career would command many long hours of the day, he placed great importance on the love of his life, Mary Turnbull, their three children (David, Richard and Catherine) and seven grandchildren.
He relished his close-knit, loving family and its traditions. When each grandchild reached his or her 10th birthday, for example, our grandparents took us to the theatre – Peter Pan, Oliver Twist, The King and I. Sometimes we didn’t completely understand what was happening on stage (Les Misérables was a bit of a baffler for my brother Jamie), but each child learned to appreciate the arts in the same way Papa did.
He never missed as music recital, football game or graduation ceremony. When we had a new interest, he learned it, too. He researched planes when my cousin wanted to become a pilot, and meticulously detailed the pros and cons of each university as we grew older and furthered our education. When he took his family to Disneyland years ago, it was a boisterous group of 13. As a child, I expected this kind of involvement in every family. As an adult, I have come to see it as the rare blessing it is.
One of Papa’s most admirable traits was his gift as a public speaker. He stood easily in front of a crowd and had a great sense of humour. This dry wit developed early in his childhood; at the age of eight, for example, he was caught sampling cigarettes with his older brother, Hugh. Nabbed red-handed, he stated that unfortunately he “couldn’t quit now – it has become a habit.”
Memories have a trick of being everywhere you look. In even the most inconsequential things, I have found sudden recollections to spring up, unbidden. Quite often, they are memories I didn’t know I had. For me, Papa’s strongest presence is in the garden. He grew flowers in every nook and cranny at his London home and his beloved cottage in Grand Bend, with plants and blooms surrounding the house and filling the backyard.
Gardening was his refuge from the busyness of a demanding job, although it was a job he loved and did not retire from until late in life. Often he would come into the house at night, driven from his yard work only by the deepening night sky, and wash the dirt off his scratched and tired arms. We will keep his garden going. It’s still home to the beautiful birds he loved to watch.
Dr. Robert Barr was someone to admire, a man who accomplished many outstanding things in his 40-year medical and teaching career, and yet to me he will always be simply Papa. Sitting at the cottage, reading the paper or incessantly doing his Sudoku puzzles, his orange juice in a plastic cup with a square of napkin folded underneath. Papa.
Megan Barr is Robert’s eldest grandchild.