He was a man and faith and everyone’s favorite.
These are remarks from the funeral of my hero, Jimmy Barrett.
The purpose of a memorial service is three-fold:
We celebrate a life well-lived. If anyone ever accomplished this, Jimmy Barrett did.
Secondly, we gather to walk with the family in their grief. If any family ever took care of their loved one, it was Jimmy Barrett’s family. We stand with you together and the large crowd present are testimony to Jimmy’s influence and our love for you.
Thirdly, and most importantly, we are here to lift us Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jimmy followed Jesus as Savior and Lord. It is fitting that we shine the spotlight on Jesus on this day.
Jimmy Barrett was a man of faith and without a doubt, everyone’s favorite. We’ll share some stories that remind us of why he was our favorite, but I want to start, and end, with this matter of Jimmy’s faith.
The writer of Hebrews in chapter 11 goes over what is called the Faith Hall of Fame. In the opening verses, he defines faith. Listen to it:
11 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
4 By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he (Abel) still speaks, even though he is dead.
Then the writer starts the heroes of faith list with a seemingly odd choice. Abel, son of Adam and Eve whose seemingly claim to fame is being the first murder victim at the hands of his own brother, Cain.
Notice how Abel is recognized and how verse 4 ends:
Though dead, he speaketh still.
The witness of Abel still speaks to us, thousands of years after he offered his sacrifice of faith to God.
You see, the life of faith continues to speak even after the last breath and final heart beat.
That has never been truer than in the life of Jimmy Barrett. He lived a life of faith and it made a ripple effect in Dry Creek, the East Beauregard community, Beauregard Parish, Louisiana, and beyond.
Jimmy is gone, but that ripple effect of faith and will live. Though dead, he speaketh still.
Jimmy was a man of faith. And his faith was in Jesus Christ. A person can have faith in anything, but what, or who, we have faith in is the key. That is lasting faith.
Jimmy’s faith in Jesus did last. That personal faith—a faith of the heart as well as the head—brought him through a life of joy and sorrow, laughter and pain. It helped him finish well. Finish strong.
As his brother, Don said as Jimmy’s life ended, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.”
We’re not here to preach Jimmy Barrett into heaven. His faith in Jesus is the reason I—and we—believe he is in Heaven.
I had the privilege of observing Jimmy’s faith in action over a period of fifty years. I’ll share later about a special season where I was privileged to closely listen to the spiritual heartbeat of Jimmy.
I said he was everyone’s favorite. I don’t believe anyone could argue with that. He wore many hats in his rich life of 76 years. I want to touch on them.
Most of all, I believe Jimmy was a teacher.
That was his original calling and Jimmy never really left it. He just moved from the classroom to the principal’s office, then to a deputy’s uniform, and beyond. He was always a teacher.
During my high school years at East Beauregard, Jimmy was assistant principal and taught driver’s education. He taught my generation of students to drive safely. His big heart was revealed in two memories of that time:
Bob and Mark Smith were two East Beauregard brothers who lived on Jimmy’s route to school. Their father had recently died and Jimmy, seeing a need in the Smith brother’s lives, picked them up each morning in the Driver’s Ed car. He allowed Bob and Mark to take turns driving to and from school. That may seem like a small thing, but it was the mark of a caring teacher who cared about students going through a difficult time.
The second memory is extremely personal. I’m still moved when I think about the way Jimmy Barrett taught driver’s education. He took it very seriously. He transparently shared about a great family tragedy when he was a young driver. He used that painful experience to teach and guide us. I still walk around a vehicle before backing up. I learned that from one of the best teachers I ever had. I cannot express the love and respect his decision to share from deep in his heart to help us. I firmly believe many injuries were prevented and lives spared because of this teacher who taught so much more than Driver’s Ed.
Though Jimmy is dead, he speaketh still, reminding us of lessons he taught us.
At a young age, Jimmy moved into the principal’s office at East Beauregard. Remember our school was a rural K-12 school with a unique atmosphere. I doubt if anyone ever loved a school more than he did EBHS.
And the school and community loved him in return.
He was one of the key reasons I returned to my alma mater as a young teacher and coach. His style of leadership was unique and effective. I cannot say I feared Jimmy Barrett as my boss, but I readily admit that I feared letting him down. He had the rare ability to build people up with words and actions. Due to this, students and teachers never wanted to disappoint him.
I recall one year when all forty plus teachers returned for the next school year. That is a rare event. I believe it was because teachers wanted to work in his school. If you did your job, he allowed you to teach and run your classroom.
Jimmy also had a way with students. He had the ability to show them he cared and heighten expectations. He earned the trust of students one person at a time. He was at his best with those strong-willed country boys (and girls) that we are famous for producing.
Jimmy also cared about the underdog. There was Carter and Glynn and Kristi and Walter and dozens of others. They were guarded and cared for, and dealt with respectfully.
That is a matter of respect. It’s what great teachers and principals do.
Though Jimmy Barrett is dead, he still teaches us that leaders don’t have to scream or talk loudly. Real leaders show and earn respect.
Now, I don’t want to be too serious. Nobody loved a joke or prank more that Mr. Barrett.
Once in biology class, I showed an Ann Landers film about sex education. I made the off-hand remark that I hoped it didn’t result in any parent getting upset. The next day, I was called to the office during my planning period. I was ushered into the principal’s office where Jimmy was in a heated argument on the phone. I entered just as he said, “Now, I don’t believe that about Mr. Iles. He’s a good teacher and wouldn’t do that.”
As I remember it, Mr. Spears and several other co-conspirators were sitting there shaking their heads.
Jimmy put his hand over the phone, “It’s that Fontenot man. He’s pretty upset and is going to the school board over that film you showed.” Now there were several Fontenot men who could’ve fit the bill. Jimmy handed the phone to me. The man on the other end, who had a thick Cajun accent, let me have it. I never had a chance to defend myself.
My principal, kept whispering, “Just hang up on him. Hang up.” When the chewing finally ended, I wearily sat down and Jimmy went into his kind mode. “It’s all right, we’ll stand by you.”
Suddenly, Felix Broussard, one of our custodians, walked by. Jimmy called to him, “Mr. Fontenot, come on in here.”
They had played me well.
A second story is one that Jimmy could tell even better than me. He came to observe my chemistry class, and slipped into the back of the class, easing into a student desk that was a size too small for him.
I was teaching a lesson on chemical compounds and had set up an experiment. I’d mixed two powdered compounds that when struck with a hammer, would explode like a pistol going off.
I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I glanced to the back of the classroom it looked like Mr. Barrett had gone to sleep. You know he always got real relaxed when he sat down, and looked half asleep
The moment of truth was here. I struck with my hammer and it brought Mr. Barrett back to life. He nearly tore up the desk getting out of it.
The best part was how he enjoyed telling and re-telling this episode.
Though dead, Jimmy Barrett speaketh still: life is joyful and meant to be enjoyed with friends, and one of the ways we enjoy it is laughter and stories.
Jimmy’s obituary said he retired. He never retired, he only switched careers. All of his careers had one thing in common: he was helping people.
When Jimmy Barrett became a deputy, he simply changed gears and uniforms. I had the continued privilege of working with him in our community.
He was a peace officer in the highest sense of the word.
Once at Dry Creek Camp, we had a group of Korean students for a month. It was a wonderful time teaching them English and showing how we do things in Louisiana. These students had many questions about law enforcement in America. Deputies Jimmy Barrett and Ace Schiro came to visit and gave a wonderful presentation. One of the Koreans raised his hand, pointed at Jimmy’s gun belt and asked through an interpreter, “What is the best weapon you carry?”
Instantly, Jimmy pointed at his mouth. “My tongue is the best weapon I use in my job.
And that was true. Sheriff Bishop told me that he called on Jimmy to defuse situations where a cool head and calm words were needed.
Though dead, Jimmy Barrett speaketh still. He speaks about how our words can heal and connect. He was a master at using his voice, smile, words, and humor. He was a man who knew how to use words whether it was a story, lesson, or lecture.
Jimmy had a hundred stories about being in law enforcement. My favorite was his relating about pulling over suspected drunk drivers. No matter their condition, Jimmy claimed the driver would hold up two wobbly fingers. “Officer, I swear I only had two beer. Only two.”
I still repeat that when I pass a traffic stop. “Only two beer.”
Before I return to Jimmy Barrett being a man of faith, I must share another trait. His obituary pointed it out so well: Jimmy Barrett was a family man.
He loved his family. That started and ended with his wife of 56 years, Linda Simmons Barrett. They had a lifelong love affair. Recently I preached at their church and Jimmy sitting in his wheelchair, held hands throughout the whole service with Linda. It touched me deeply. Linda, he loved you dearly.
Jimmy was a committed father and both James and Mary Jean can attest to the love they received.
As I’ve watched the care that Jimmy received in this last season of his life, I’ve come to especially respect James and Tonia’s committed care to their father. James, in you I see the very best qualities of Barrett and Simmons blood running in your veins. Job well done.
Austin and Alyssa, your grandfather loved me deeply. You will carry on the traits and values he had. Make sure you (one day) tell your grandchildren (one day) about your grandpa.
Family. Jimmy loved his siblings, every one of them with the Barrett smile.
I loved watching Jimmy and Don with their parents, John and Leneice Barrett during the latter stages of lives. They always showed a visible love and respect for them.
Though Jimmy is dead, he speaketh still and reminds us to make family a priority.
Jimmy was a man of faith.
For a ten year period in the 90’s, I was part of a Tuesday morning Bible study at Dry Creek Camp. A group of men: my Dad, Bill Hitefield, Jimmy and Don Barrett and Rick Bailey, met for weekly Bible study and prayer.
I learned so much, especially from the three older men, who loved God and are now all gone. Daddy, Jimmy, and Bill Hitefield were men of God who loved the Bible. My Bible is full of notes and dates from when one of these men shared scripture. My Bible has many notations of a scripture Jimmy shared.
You see, Jimmy was a man of the Word. He loved and studied God’s word as a light unto his path and a lamp unto his feet.
I had the rare privilege of hearing Jimmy speak of his personal faith in Jesus. A faith that had brought him to this point in his life. I treasure those notes and times.
Once again, although Jimmy Barrett is dead, he speaketh still. He reminds us that the invisible things of life are the things that matter.
That faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
To close, let’s look at how chapter 12 of Hebrews closes out the Faith Hall of Fame.
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
That great cloud of witnesses now includes our friend Jimmy. The best way we can cherish his life and extend his testimony is by following those verses in Hebrews:
To run our race with perseverance and finish strong.
To fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
To serve Jesus while serving others.
To remember that Jesus, the Son of God, now sits at the right hand of the Father and this Jesus is worthy of our praise and sacrifice.
It’s only fitting that I end this service with a quote from D.L. Moody. It says more about Jimmy’s faith than my faltering words:
Some day you will read in the papers, ‘D. L. Moody of East Northfield is dead.’ Don’t you believe a word of it! ”At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now; I shall have gone up higher, that is all, out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal – a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint; a body fashioned like unto His glorious body. I was born of the flesh in 1837. I was born of the Spirit in 1856. That which is born of the flesh may die. That which is born of the Spirit will live forever.
Absent from the body, present with the Lord.
Though dead, he speaketh still.