To preface this column, a few weekends ago I spent an afternoon at the Okie Noodling Festival in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma. I will keep this short, for the sake of brevity, but noodling is when very athletic, brave, and possibly certifiable men, women and, yes, children dive into various bodies of water attempting to catch enormous catfish with their bare hands. The winner of this year’s Okie Noodling Festival reeled in a catfish weighing over 60 pounds.
Even at a noodling festival smartphones remain in hand. This author caught a few snaps with his own smartphone camera. So it wasn’t surprising in nearby Pauls Valley to hear some news from Oklahoma City delivered via Facebook. The surprising part was the news: Bob Barry Jr. was killed in a motorcycle accident. Being relatively new to Oklahoma City, my reaction was, “Who’s Bob Barry Jr.?” For every one else, it was stunned silence and questions of disbelief.
On Saturday, June 20th, Bob Barry Jr. was killed while riding his motorcycle after being cutoff by a vehicle making an illegal U-turn. Barry Jr. was 58 years old.
For over 30 years, Barry Jr. had reported sports at what is now known as KFOR (or Channel 4) news, the NBC affiliate located in Oklahoma City. He joined the station in 1982, working under his father Bob Barry Sr. The eldest Barry had worked at the station since 1966, meaning for an incredible 49 years a Barry had led the sports team at Channel 4. The two had an unusually close bond. It has been said that Junior would often greet his father with a kiss on the cheek. Barry Sr. passed away in 2011. Some offered up their belief that the two were at least able to spend this year’s Father’s Day together
In addition to being the KFOR sports director, Barry Jr. also co-hosted an area sports radio talk show.
Following his death, memories and emotions poured out of the residents of Oklahoma City and beyond. Area newspapers, local radio shows and television broadcasts were filled with recollections of Barry Jr. and the chance meetings regular people had with the larger than life sports voice. Electronic billboards, throughout the city, flashed “In Loving Memory.” Flags at both the Oklahoma and Oklahoma State campuses flew at half mast. This author spotted a “Rest in Piece” sign for Bob Barry Jr. in his local grocery store. Area celebrities such as Oklahoma Football Coach Bob Stoops, Oklahoma State Football Coach Mike Gundy and Thunder superstar Kevin Durant publicly expressed grief at his passing.
BBJ, as he was fondly referred to, was laid to rest on Friday, June 26th. In what was an incredible gesture, competing Oklahoma City news stations offered their own staff to Channel 4 for the day so station employees could attend the funeral and Channel 4 would not have to cancel its newscasts.
Over two thousand people packed into Crossroads Community Church in Oklahoma City for the service. Some who knew Barry Jr. stood up and told memorable, and often hilarious, stories of their friend. Some of the best below:
As an upperclassman at Norman High School, Barry Jr. successfully lobbied the school board to abolish a rule that allowed only junior and seniors to play for the varsity basketball team. He did so that a talented sophomore could join the team and, in doing, kick Barry Jr. out of the starting lineup.
A high school teammate of Barry Jr.’s recalled him streaking through Norman Central Junior High in 1973 and remarked on the memory of Barry Jr.’s powerful legs.
In college, Barry Jr. was saved from having to pass Spanish after the University of Oklahoma changed its liberal arts requirements. The announcement spurred a celebration that included textbook burning and the imbibing of a few “cervezas,” apparently one of the few Spanish words Barry Jr. understood.
There was the snowball Barry Jr. once landed, in his younger days, upside the head of a toupee-wearing assistant principal.
A bachelor party for a colleague of Barry Jr.’s got a little out of hand. While riding in Channel 4’s double decker bus, Barry Jr. allegedly (allegedly, nothing has been proven in a court of law) relieved himself out of the back door of the bus.
Recalled was a memorable April sportscast when Barry Jr. announced over the Channel 4 airwaves that legendary Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer had been dismissed from the team. Barry Jr. was going to immediately announce that this was nothing more than an April Fools joke, but he was cut off by a director who announced he was out of time and then threw his shot to another anchor. Following the newscast, Barry Jr.’s boss (and father) Big Bob Barry confronted BBJ with the question, “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t fire you?” “I’m your son,” responded Barry Jr.
He would often approach strangers to start meaningful conversations, like when he chatted up his garbage man to find out where the garbage ended up after it left his house.
He was always willing to lend a hand, ear or advice to interns who were looking to get their foot in the door of the broadcast industry.
Residents in towns around Oklahoma were always thrilled to see Barry Jr. land in the Channel 4 chopper at their high school football games.
Bob Barry Jr. is survived by his wife, four children, innumerable colleagues as well as countless friends and fans.
It has been said that you can measure a life by the amount of people who call you friend. For years Bob Barry Jr. sat down and for a few moments five nights a week had a conversation with his friends. This conversation was an invitation to all from the governor of Oklahoma to the manager of a Norman Dairy Queen. Many accepted the invitation and counted Bob Barry Jr. as a friend. If you measure a life by the amount of people who call you friend, then Bob Barry Jr. indeed led one memorable life.