Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Tribute to Mr. Thomas Barry

A Tribute to Mr. Thomas Barry

Many years ago, I had the privilege of attending a physical science class under a man who greatly inspired me. It was 1976, and I was a freshman at Ridgeview High. That man was Thomas Barry.

Mr. Barry was not cut from the same mold as other teachers. He called our hands "meathooks" and had a sly, dry sense of humor. He also had a voice very similar to the star of the Get Smart series, Don Adams. "Now children," he would chide us, knowing that it rubbed against our sense of teenage grown-upness, "get out your number TYEW pencils and get ready to take a pop quiz." This mispronunciation of the number two with the voice cracking is one of many things I have adapted into my own classes from my teachers at Ridgeview.

During those days, I was, let’s face it, at times... a mildly annoying student. I would challenge poor Mr. Barry in class, questioning his authority with my witty repartee.

"Your homework tonight is to complete page 93 in your workbook."

"Is it due tomorrow?" He would stop class and just look at me.


"The Physical Science Workbook?"

"Houtchens!!!!" He would just roll his eyes and shake his head, calling me by my last name. Unfortunately for me, I am now having to deal with a student this year who is *exactly* like I was back then, but that's another story, hehe. =)

Another time Mr. Barry was running a static experiment with a Van deGraff generator. These were the days when long hair was in for guys, and I sported stylish over the collar straight hair. Mr. Barry said he needed a guinea pig for the experiment and I was chosen to be the "expendable one." I was asked to stand on "the platform" and place my hand on the machine as it revved up. As he was discussing the actions of the electrons running through my body, my hair stood up in a silly way and I reached out with a pointed finger.

"Houtchens, don't do that." He shifted slightly away from me. Suddenly I found myself in an unusual position. Like a mad comic book villain on a teenage ego trip, I discovered that I HAD THE POWER. Magneto would have loved me. I persisted for just a moment, when to my shock, (sorry) a giant spark jumped out from my extended index finger and hit Mr. Barry on the ear. "OWW! HOUTCHENS!!!!"

These incidents are relevant in that at the time I was walking home from school each day, along Trimble Road until it cuts through a path in the woods. Mr. Barry would tear out of work in his sky blue Volkswagen Beetle around that time and often he passed me along the road, waving as he passed. One day, it was raining heavily and I walked home knowing I would be soaked by the time I arrived. Mr. Barry must have spotted me and seen an opportunity for sweet, sweet revenge. You see, the sides of the road were bordered at the time by long pieces of concrete, or perhaps it was granite. In any event, it caused the water to build up along the sides. He passed me by getting a little too close to the curb, sending a massive splash of cold water and mud all over me. I truly deserved it, but I did not mind. To his credit, he must have felt sorry for me because he pulled over down the street and offered me a ride home.

Mr. Barry ran the Science Club and took us teens on a night trip to Fernbank for a chance to look through their actual observatory at the planet Saturn. It was amazing- from Earth it resembled any other star, but through the telescope it looked like a painting, the rings and clouds on the planet clearly visible and awe-inspiring. He even invited our little club to his house for a little year end party one afternoon with snacks and soda.

Mr. Barry only taught at Ridgeview for 2 years, and yet- his presence there at least for me- was profound. As I learned later, it can be difficult to be a teacher. The behind the scenes work as well as the difficulty of dealing with classroom management issues is *extremely* stressful.

I have been unable to reach him, but in his retirement, I wish him peace, relaxation, and contentment. Wherever you are, Mr. Barry, God bless you richly. Thank you for putting up with me and thank you for your contribution to my life.


armchair coach

amateur historian


Anonymous said...

Houtchens....may an egret fly up your butt & leave you constipated !

Anonymous said...

Have you ever succeeded in tracking him down? I took physics & aviation science with him in 1977 & thought the world of him. Mr Biggs was entertaining but he was a clown. Mr Barry was entertaining but inspiring. Truly one of a kind.

Glenn Houtchens said...

I believe I did, indeed reach him in 2012, or perhaps, at least he heard about this article. Please see the anonymous comment, above yours, signed TB (Thomas Barry.)