Development & Alumni Relations Office 

Barry Bridges, former member of Queen’s staff (died January 2007)

(Panegyric by Sir Peter Froggatt given at St Ignatius Church, Carryduff 8th January 2007)

Barry was larger than life.  A big man with a very big heart.  Laurence Sterne, the author of Tristram Shandy also had a father who was larger than life.  He wanted to portray him in his famous novel but he had to create not one but two characters, Mr Shandy and Uncle Toby, because one would have been completely inadequate.

I feel the same about Barry.  In the best of all possible senses there were two Barrys, the Barry whom we all knew – doctor, teacher, researcher, sportsman, Territorial Army officer, St Johns’ Ambulance stalwart, the conscientious representative of his colleagues and the students’ willing Tribune and author of their centenary history, and the ever popular and gregarious companion. 

But there was also another Barry.  Like the “hidden Ireland” so beloved by the Tourist Board, the “hidden Barry” is also remarkable but known only to the family, to his confidantes, and to the more perceptive if ironically also unappreciative beneficiaries of his kindnesses.  It is the Barry of the warm heart and numerous good turns; the Barry with the deep love for, and pride in, his family; the Barry of deep and instinctive pastoral care for students, the wise counsellor and the popular Warden of the student residences; and the Barry of unswerving loyalty to people and institutions no matter how humble; the Barry in whom you could place your absolute trust.

Many here will know at least the fundamentals of the “visible” Barry’s career and so I will only briefly litanies them.  The scholarship to Methody.  Scholarships, prizes and high honours at Queen’s.  Post-graduate fellowships and consultancies in England, America and elsewhere.  A valued member of the staff at Queen’s from 1954 and promoted into the most senior of the purely academic ranks which the University has to offer – the personal professorship.  An active researcher, an enthusiastic teacher, and an in-house and external representative of student and staff interest, he was also involved more widely in the profession as Chairman of the local Division of the British Medical Association. 

His TA career led to the peaks of an Honorary Colonelcy and as Commanding Officer of a general and field hospital, an appointment as an Honorary Physician to the Queen, and the Territorial Decoration with two Bars; while the St John’s Ambulance commitment culminated in the senior rank of Commander Brother and a Member of the Chapter of the Commandery of Ards.  He won rugby “blues” at Queen’s at a time when the club regularly supplied several members of the Irish Fifteen and nearly half the Ulster one, and he was later President of the club not once, but twice.  

Generating this impressive curriculum vitae is the “hidden” Barry. Barry possessed the traditional classical virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance (that is, reasonableness), justice (that is, a sense of fair play), and what was called “greatness of spirit”, in other words what we now call “a big heart” – though Barry would have been highly embarrassed if you had told him all this!  He combined these with the Pauline trio of faith, hope (including optimism), and charity – that is love and compassion.  These were the building blocks of his character.  No wonder he was drawn to the professions of medicine and teaching. 

And it was his character and the actions which flowed from it that so attracted and impressed seniors, colleagues and juniors alike.  I can confirm these qualities from personal experience.  For many years I knew Barry as a friend and contemporary colleague.  Latterly I was his senior in the University, though “senior” only in the hierarchical sense.  Some 25 or more years ago I was looking for a colleague to help me in two ambitious, and completely unremunerated, “blood, toil, tears and sweat” ventures which would greatly benefit the Medical School and the University.  Barry at once volunteered – the first I must say in a very short queue!  I never worked with a more obliging, industrious, tolerant and understanding colleague. 

The Canada Room and much else in the north wing of the main Queen’s building is the visible result of the first venture, and several publications, an international symposium, a special issue of the Ulster Medical Journal, and Barry’s centenary history of the Belfast Medical Students Association, resulted from the second initiative; while the greater good of the University is the less tangible but real outcome of both.  None of these would have been achieved without Barry who was motivated to volunteer entirely by his altruistic loyalty to Queen’s and by his instinctive desire to be of help.

Persons in authority, including University Vice-Chancellors, have many problems which are refreshed daily by the usual suspects!  Mrs Thatcher famously said that Lord Young was her favourite Cabinet Minister because “while the others brought only problems to her desk, he brought solutions”.  Barry always brought solutions and if he didn’t he worked long and hard to find them – and he usually did!

When Barry’s final fiendishly cruel progressive illness struck he had to face a new and highly unwelcome experience.  I wondered how well the patently Christian virtues of patience, humility and long-sufferingness would be marshalled by Barry in face of this, purely, I must say, because they did not neatly fit with the classical virtues which he so evidently possessed.  My concerns were groundless: Barry’s courage and love, his faith and hope, those supreme virtues, triumphed.  He rarely complained; and when I last saw him shortly before Christmas, he briefly recognised me, discernibly smiled, and tried to offer his hand although he could barely move.  It was a humbling but nonetheless elevating experience.

President Kennedy in his Inaugural Address in January 1961 said to his countrymen “say not what America can do for you, but what you can do for America”.  And that could have been Barry: think of giving and not of taking; think of helping and not of being helped.  A fitting epitaph to a good friend and loyal colleague.  I will close this panegyric with my opening words – “Barry was a big man with a very big heart”.

Elsie and the family honoured me with this invitation.  The burden on them of Barry’s illness and decline, especially on Elsie, must at times have been almost unbearable.  That they did bear it so compassionately must stand as a prime example of love and courage hugely reciprocated.

Peter Froggatt
Former Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University


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