The local and global community has been mourning the loss of Bermuda’s own Mr Happy — Johnny Barnes who died in the early hours of Saturday morning at the age of 93
Mr Barnes, who was famed for bringing cheer to locals and visitors, died at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, with his wife, Belvina, and members of his church at his side.
A tribute article posted on The Royal Gazette website on Saturday morning has reached 150,000 online readers around the world and attracted close to 2,000 online reactions locally.
Michael Dunkley hailed the island icon as “the quintessential ambassador for Bermuda”.
“I join with all Bermuda in expressing our sadness,” the Premier said, calling Mr Barnes “a remarkable, original man whose life gave life to the love we all have in our hearts, and who, from his roundabout perch each morning, expressed that love to all who passed by — friend, acquaintance, stranger, it did not matter, because Johnny Barnes embraced the human race.”
Mr Dunkley noted his international following, which had “countless visitors to our island making it a priority to meet and greet Johnny during their stay.
“Not too long ago, I had the special privilege of spending a little time with Johnny and his family, and during our conversation I was reminded of his love and appreciation for Bermuda and her people.
“He was a man of resounding faith, love and compassion who always tried to see the goodness and positive in life.
“He was truly an inspirational figure who will be greatly missed. On behalf of the Government, our thoughts and prayers are with Johnny’s loved ones and friends during this time. God bless Johnny Barnes. May he rest in peace.”
The Royal Gazette spoke with Kenneth Manders, president of the Bermuda Conference of the Seventh-day Adventists, who was Mr Barnes’s pastor for 13 years at the Hamilton Seventh-day Adventist Church.
“Brother Johnny Barnes represents what has become known as the spirit of Bermuda,” Mr Manders said.
“His life, his love, his legacy has touched thousands of people in our community and those who have visited our country.”
Mr Manders continued: “His ministry has blessed people who were in need of prayer in the early morning. He was a Christian man and always tried to show the love of God and demonstrated that to all of mankind. He will be sadly missed.”
Mr Barnes was known for his trademark “I love you” greetings which he bestowed on hundreds of commuters every morning from about 5am until 10am at the Crow Lane roundabout.
However, he touched many lives aside from his morning good cheer. Many who were sick in hospital requested the company of Mr Barnes to help raise their spirits.
Entertainer Mark Anderson, who dresses as his female alter ego Sybil Barrington, is personally grateful to Mr Barnes for giving him strength during a difficult period.
Mr Anderson recalls: “When the government banned me from the May 24, 2006 parade, Johnny showed up at my house on the eve of May 24th. He said to me, ‘I know you’re going to show up tomorrow my child’. I said to him they banned me!
“’Yes they did ban you, that doesn’t mean you cannot show up! You are and will show up! Just look at everything what you have accomplished in your career my child. You are lifting humanity up and helping people to know it’s OK to live their lives for a purpose and dignity. So you show up Sybil!’
“Johnny Barnes was my Rainbow Cloud. He was one of the many people who welcomed me with unconditional love when I use to show up to promote my show. He was my anchor! Rest in peace Johnny Barnes.”
Mr Barnes’s inexhaustible drive to wish well on his fellow man was something he traced back to his childhood.
In 2008, he recalled for The Royal Gazette how he, as a youngster, was sent by his mother Christine Mills to take a message to an elderly lady.
Young Johnny duly delivered the message and returned home thinking it was a job well done. He was wrong.
“I delivered it but I didn’t speak to her,” explained Mr Barnes.
“My mother said never, never, let no one come to her and say that I didn’t speak to them. She said I must speak to everyone.”
A bronze statue by Desmond Fountain of Mr Barnes, arms raised in greeting, was erected a short distance from the roundabout in 1998, and in December 2015 a replica was put in place at the Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute in Ontario — a testament to the international fame that came to him later in life.
“Amen, amen — it’s a blessing, and I thank God for it,” Mr Barnes said at the time.
“Everything belongs to God and nothing belongs to us. He has not allowed me to have boys and girls so he has given me statues.”
He was also the subject of a film, Mr Happy Man by Matt Morris Films, and immortalised by numerous photographers, artists and musicans over the years.
Johnny Barnes was born on June 23, 1923. His parents came to Bermuda from St Kitts in the West Indies.
He was an electrician by trade, working for Bermuda Railways. In 1948, after the railways closed down, Mr Barnes became a bus driver.
It was his calling as a well-wisher to all that later became his true vocation, however.
As Mr Barnes grew older, a bench and railing were placed at his traditional calling spot: in 2012 concerned commuters had pushed for a permanent seat, after an ambulance was called when he lost his footing and had difficulties regaining his feet.
In his usual fashion, Mr Barnes made light of any health troubles: the ambulance was unnecessary, he said, as he had merely tripped trying to get out of a hole that developed through the years of him standing on the same patch.
He had been greeting commuters from the roundabout since 1986.
Mr Barnes had been absent since December after he developed leg problems.
“When you get to 92 you have to slow down a little bit,” he told this newspaper at the time.
“When you have an old bike, you can put oil on the wheels to make them go, but I can’t put oil on these knees.”
As retirement loomed he said he wanted “everyone to know that I will always love them and I am thinking of them”.
“I hope people continue to look up and keep saying yes. But for me sometimes you have to listen to your body.”