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Bermuda bids farewell to iconic Barnes

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Bermuda has bid farewell to Johnny Barnes with a regal funeral in tribute to “Mr Happy”, an ambassador for the island known worldwide.

Bermuda Institute schoolchildren lined roadsides around his customary place at Crow Lane to cheer his funeral procession on its way to St George's.

The school's auditorium earlier hosted a service of hundreds, including Michael Dunkley, the Premier, and the Governor, George Fergusson, with guests paying final respects before his cedar casket.

Many sported bright colours in keeping with Mr Barnes's wishes.

John James “Johnny” Barnes died on July 9, at the age of 93, with his wife of 65 years, Belvina, at his side. She sat with family at the front row. Mr Fergusson explained how he, like tens of thousands of others, experienced the “lifting of the spirits that came with Mr Barnes's cheery, no-strings early morning greetings”.

His altruistic benevolence was not aimed at “fame, wealth or pushing a cause, other than the Christian message of love thy neighbour”.

Recalling hearing Mr Barnes's message for the first time during a morning milk run 30 years ago, Mr Dunkley thanked the Barnes family for providing an ambassador — and hailed a “remarkable and original man who impacted the lives of many, in ways that we are still coming to understand”.

Mr Barnes's well-wishing went back far longer than the oft-quoted year of 1986, Rosemary Tyrell told the gathering.

She recounted how, decades earlier, he would cheer to the students coming into Hamilton from the wall of the old bus depot, “waving to us like we were royalty”.

During Queen Elizabeth's last visit to Bermuda, Mr Barnes told her that he loved and prayed for her, with the Queen responding: “And I love you, too.”

There were travellers who visited Bermuda simply to see Mr Barnes and share his compassion, Pastor Randolph Wilson said.

Introducing the film tribute to him, Mr Happy Man, Cynthia Aberdeen said that Mr Barnes exhibited “the spirit of Bermuda”.

Caregiver Russ Ford recounted Mr Barnes's final days and the dedication of those who tended to him — above all his wife, who had always wanted to be a nurse.

Awakening Mrs Barnes at 2.45am on his last day, Mr Ford held hands with her and prayed. Mr Barnes, though unresponsive, moved his lips in words of love, and took his last breath at 5.51am.

Mr Ford brought the audience to their feet with the words: “If anyone is deserving of national hero status, it is John James Barnes.”

Pastor Kenneth Manders drew laughter and applause by suggesting that East Broadway be changed to Johnny Barnes Way. After the service, a procession of cars made their way to the St George's Seventh-day Adventist Church cemetery.

Among the crowd gathered in cheery tribute at Mr Barnes's Crow Lane roundabout was his fellow churchgoer, Angela Bean.

“Johnny shared love and joy every day. He was an example, and I want to do this in his honour,” said Ms Bean, while waving at passing cars.

Mr Barnes was buried mid-afternoon in a plot overlooking the ocean, with a crowd of about 70 people looking on.

Attendees sang hymns including What A Friend We Have in Jesus and listened to a Bible reading from First Thessalonians, while red rose petals were scattered on Mr Barnes's casket.

“Johnny was a national icon, but he was a very humble man. He showed every good characteristic that a Christian should exhibit,” said Stefan Burton-Schnuell, a former pastor at the St George's Seventh-day Adventist Church, who flew back to Bermuda from New Jersey to attend the service.

“Every time I visited Johnny's house, he would tell me that he loved his wife,” said Sydney Gibbons, pastor of the Hamilton Seventh-day Adventist Church.

“His message was very simple and doesn't change.

“It's about inclusiveness and accepting people.”

Fond memories: Johnny Barnes at his roundabout, where his procession passed after his funeral yesterday (File photograph)
Smile for Mr Happy: congregation members at a service celebrating the life of Johnny Barnes at the Bermuda Institute Auditorium day (Photo by Blaire Simmons)
In praise: Jeffrey Brown, president of the Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, spoke at Johnny Barnes's funeral yesterday (Photo from
Island tribute: Johnny Barnes's funeral was under way at Bermuda Institute Auditorium yesterday (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
In our hearts: Johnny Barnes's funeral was under way at Bermuda Institute Auditorium yesterday (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published July 18, 2016 at 2:22 pm (Updated July 19, 2016 at 7:22 am)

Bermuda bids farewell to iconic Barnes

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