Godspeed, Barney Gallagher

by Bill Brenner on April 12, 2012

Update: Barney Gallagher passed away this morning. He was a wonderful man who lived his life in a way we should all learn from. Godspeed, Barney.

Like everyone else who has worked at The Eagle-Tribune, my life has been touched by Barney Gallagher, an old-time journalist who reminded us young ones what the profession was about.

Mood music:

I’ve been informed that Barney is gravely ill. This post is to honor the man and ask that you all say a prayer for him.

I first met Barney when I interviewed for the night editor job at The Eagle-Tribune in 1999. Then-managing editor Steve Billingham was asking me questions when he stopped, looked up, and said, “Hey, Barn!”

I looked up to see an old timer perusing items on a cork board at the back of the newsroom, next to where Billingham worked at the time. Barney walked around smiling, stopping every few feet to say hello to someone.

He was ALWAYS smiling.

As night editor, I got to know Barney well. It seemed as though he could magically appear at the scene whenever a fire, car crash or other incident happened on the streets of his beloved Haverhill — camera in hand.

As I’d sit there frantically working my way through a pile of stories I had to edit for the next morning’s papers, he’d breezily walk in with that smile of his, looking as relaxed and fresh as if he’d just had a 10-hour nap, roll of film in hand for the dark room to process.

Haverhill Editor Bill Cantwell once said, only half-joking, that Barney slept with a police scanner under his pillow.

Barney’s insight became immensely important to me when I moved to Haverhill to start my family in early 2001. I knew little about the city other than that my wife grew up there. I turned to Barney’s “My Haverhill” columns for an education on my new home.

Through his work, I learned the history of the city, names of the most noteworthy characters (the late harbormaster, Red Slavit, comes to mind), and, with his columns in hand, I set out to explore the neighborhoods, the river and the open spaces. He taught me where the seediest parts of town were located, as well as the most beautiful.

Above all, his columns always captured a theme we imperfect beings tend to overlook in the hustle and bustle of daily life — that a community is only as good as the people living there, and that anyone could make a difference for their neighbors.

When I’m having a bad day, cranky from all the petty fires fate likes to light in our path, I often think of Barney and his smile. By the time I got to know him he was already well into his senior years. He had been through it all and carried on secure in what few could understand — that life’s storms always passed into oblivion, and that if we kept our cool, we’d be left standing.

His life is a case study in how we should conduct ourselves. I thank God that I was lucky enough to know him.

I’ll end with this picture of a young Barney Gallagher, drink in hand, cigarette in mouth, symbolizing the old-school journalist. Thanks to The Eagle-Tribune’s managing editor, Gretchen Putnam, for posting it this morning on her Facebook page.

You’re in our prayers, Barney.

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