Amherst Magazine
Edwin B. Barnett '49

Edwin B. Barnett, our classmate, and my good friend, died on February 4, 2006.  He was eighty-three years old.  He is survived by his wife, Patricia Cahill (Smith ’49), and seven children: Paul, Peter, Edwin Jr., Mary Barnett Jackson, Elizabeth Barnett Franks and Brian, listed here in age order.  All the children were in attendance at, and participated in, the funeral service held on February 9 at St. Matthias Catholic Church in Bala Cynwyd, PA.  Brian, an army officer, came back from Iraq on time and in uniform.  Also attending were numerous grandchildren, as well as many relatives and friends.

Following are selected excerpts from the eloquent and moving eulogy prepared and delivered by Ed Jr. (“Ned”):

“Ed’s was a remarkable journey, an Irish tale, an American adventure, a Christian pilgrimage.  Born the seventh of eight children, he was only nine years old when his father died.  His widowed mother led the family through the teeth of the Great Depression.  That difficult beginning forged within my father the first two of what would be the three pillars of his life: faith, family and the Law.”

“He had a quick a wonderful mind.  When he entered the service during WWII, the military testing indicated he was too intelligent for routine fighting, and so he became a navigation instructor.”

“After the war, Ed entered Amherst and was given the unusual assignment of being caretaker of the Emily Dickinson House.  He entered Harvard Law School after graduation from Amherst.  By then he was married to Patricia.  The couple, now a family with children, moved to the Philadelphia area where Ed practiced law until his retirement.  His life was full of rewarding work and accomplishment, but his legacy was not riches or fame.  His treasure was what he gave away.  He lived for others; his greatness was his goodness.”

Our Amherst experiences had a short overlap, since I left Amherst in May 1948—thus missing out on another year with Ed.  Still, I have anecdotes to share.  Ed joined Chi Psi a year after I did, and accordingly, I was in the position of assisting in the required entrance ceremony.  I was handed a paddle and instructed as to how it should be used.  I administered a gentle slap on the Barnett butt.  Unfortunately, the Old Boy supervising the procedure spotted my lackadaisical action, yelled and demonstrated (on another unfortunate “pledge”) the traditional and mandatory hard smack.  I returned to my task and delivered a blow with a velocity perhaps halfway between my first effort and what I was ordered to inflict.  Ed immediately turned, glared and made it perfectly clear he was disappointed and just short of angry.  No doubt he thought my participation in the time honored but somewhat childish initiation ceremony was unworthy of a fellow veteran.  With the Mentor occupied elsewhere, I mumbled an apology.  But the damage was done.  As far as I could judge, there were no hard feelings.

I was in my second (final) year at the Harvard Business School when Ed started at the law school, so there was little overlap there, but after my graduation, I moved to Philadelphia where Ed came two years later to begin his law practice.  We did see each other from time to time, along with our many children, but he was on the main line while I lived north of the city.  The logistics of suburban socializing were formidable, but we did have an occasional “business lunch.”  I should get out of the back office, he once told me, and get into merchandising where the pay was much better.

As usual Ed gave good advice, but I never acted on it.  During this same period, we both were taking vacations on Cape Cod, and with our families in place there, he and I often took the long drive together on Fridays.  Once Ed told me that as soon as he reached his destination in the little section of North Falmouth called New Silver Beach, he would relax with a martini.  He saw this painful drive as the beginning of a really nice weekend and didn’t want to waste a minute of it.  The glass half full!  Some of our togetherness waned when I went to work at Filene’s in Boston and pretty much ended when I went to Macy’s in New York.  Meanwhile, Ed continued his practice in Philadelphia, occasionally participating in the local Amherst events which he enjoyed.

In the last dozen years, with his health gradually deteriorating, Ed still enjoyed the summer on Cape Cod, though now he and Pat were driven there and back by a son.  Another friend, Paul Leahy ’44, hosted an annual luncheon where attendance was strictly limited to members of Chi Psi—which seemed to be just the three of us.  Paul had a view of fraternities substantially similar to that of Ed and me, but he insisted on a range of mock handshakes, songs and ritual pronouncements.  Most of which we could not remember, but along with a drink or two, we thought this nonsense was almost unbearably funny.

Pat, reaching back into the cultures of Amherst and Smith, asked that the following extract from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar be included in the funeral eulogy.  I feel it also should be included here:

“His life was gentle and all the elements so mixed in him
    that nature might stand up and say to all the world:
    This was a man.”

Thus a good place to end.

—Dick Silva ’49

 

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