Barr family has helped define Saint James School

April 18, 2009|By BOB PARASILITI

ST. JAMES -- If it weren't for a moment of clarity, Dave Barr would have spent most of his life with sand between his toes.

Upon graduation from Dartmouth College in 1948, Barr had a choice to make -- start his coaching career by moving to paradise or to Washington County and Saint James School.

"I met with the headmaster from Saint James and he offered me a job and the chance to be the head football coach," Barr said. "I was also offered a job in Hawaii. I would have only been an assistant there. I chose Saint James because the thought of running a team at that age was intriguing. Besides, I would have had to stay three years in Hawaii to be able to save enough to come back."

Barr's choice not only set the course for his life, but it had a major impact on the small private school and a large number of its students.


The decision also was the genesis for three generations of a family that has lived, breathed, embraced, nurtured, served and in many ways defined Saint James School for six decades.

"The one word I would use to describe it is loyalty," said Alice Barr, who married Barr's son, Scott.

"We should all be so lucky to have your dad make a decision that affects your family so positively for 61 years," Scott Barr said.

It all started simply

Dave Barr, 83, passed up grass skirts and beaches in exchange for khaki pants and rolling hills when he accepted the job at Saint James School. He coached football from 1948 to 1973, baseball from 1948 to 1954 and was the school's athletic director from 1973 to 1984. His picture hangs in the school's Alumni Hall gymnasium and a lacrosse field bears his name.

His wife, Betty, 78, began working on campus in 1951. She has been the school's assistant librarian and receptionist, and was awarded the school's Exceptional Service Award in 2007.

"After we got married, the children came," Dave Barr said. "We have really enjoyed our years here. The school has been good to me and my wife, and all the children have enjoyed it here. I had some offers, but family decisions told us not to leave."

Even in semi-retirement (he serves as a math tutor at the school), Barr is a fixture on campus. He still attends sporting events -- especially those involving his grandchildren, Jordan and Ellen -- and old friends, former students and Saints athletes stop to say hello and pay respects to the man who helped shape the school and its sports programs.

"When I was growing up, I knew my dad was special," Scott Barr said. "He was a great coach here, but that wasn't anything special to me. It was the fact that he was my dad and he is a special person."

Just how special was made clear in a story relayed by Alice Barr's father.

"One year, my father-in-law, John Patterson, attended," Scott Barr wrote in an e-mail. "He is a successful financial adviser in Hagerstown and is close to my father, and they spent much of the day together. As it is almost always the case, many of the returning alums make a point to stop by and see Dad, to give him a hug, talk about their football days at Saint James and the influence those football days had on their lives. It's a scene that has occurred over and over, with players who played in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Those from the '70s, '80s and '90s have the same conversations.

"After seeing that, my father-in-law made a point to tell me his observations. He said, 'There are a lot of people in the world with big bank accounts. There are a lot of other accounts that indicate success. Your dad has an account filled with former students who have become his friends and admirers. I've never seen anyone with a larger, more important account.'"

A father's son

Dave Barr gave up coaching football at Saint James in 1973, stepping aside when it was time for his son to play for the Saints.

"I didn't want to coach Scott," he said. "I didn't want to force things on him. I wanted to watch him play. Now, looking back, I think if I was coaching, I could have helped him more at the time. He was a quarterback and I would have worked with him, but I didn't want to interfere with the coaches."

Scott Barr was teammates with some of the Saints' all-time best football and basketball players.

"It was an idyllic childhood," he said. "I had fields, balls and games around all the time. I had the chance to shoot baskets whenever I wanted. Combine with that the fact that my dad was coaching, I had the chance to do things early. It was all part of it. Sports have always been an important part of our family."

After graduation, he left Saint James, got married and lived in Chicago, New York and on the Eastern Shore before coming back to Washington County.

"Can you come home? Absolutely. I'm glad to be back at the school. It's wonderful," he said. "On the plus side of coming back, it gave Jordan and Ellen the chance to go here. This is a wonderful place for my kids. Both of them are being challenged and will be ready to go off to college and do well."

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