Garry Gene Barker, 1943-2011
It was plain from his recent dispatches that Garry Barker’s health was failing, that pulmonary disease was accelerating his decline, but it was still a blow to hear of his death today.
For five years, until circumstances forced them to sell this year, Garry and his wife, Danetta, ran the Flemingsburg Gazette, the weekly paper in Fleming County, Kentucky, where I got a start in journalism more than forty years ago. Garry was publisher and columnist, and Danetta, as far as I could tell, kept everything running.
Garry was a writer, author of a number of books and a column, “Head of the Holler,” that appeared in various Kentucky newspapers over the years. It was, you may well surmise, rural in tone rather than cosmopolitan. And that is fine. Garry was a man of his region, and his region informed his writing.
He graduated in 1965 from Berea College, which has for decades provided a college education to children of Appalachia who would not otherwise been able to afford one. He worked in the arts, for the Southern Highland Craft Guild, the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen, Berea College Crafts, and the Kentucky Folk Art Center.
And he wrote. Short stories collected in Kentucky Waltz and Fire on the Mountain. Essays and collections of his “Head of the Holler” columns. Fifteen books. You can find some of his work at Amazon.com.
He described himself as a humorist, a wry observer of the past and the current scene in Appalachia. I think he was more than that. Though what fame he achieved was local, and some of his columns betrayed the marks of haste, he was a writer working tirelessly over the years to achieve on his terms what he had seen writers like Jesse Stuart and Harry Caudill and Wendell Berry accomplish: to give a voice and dignity to the people of his region.
His work is done, and it was honorable.