Oct 2018 luncheon pic
Terry (standing, fifth from right) and Barry (seated, second from right) at the 2018 Annual luncheon of Williamson Class of '68

Learning from Barry

Terry Lieb God Finds, Judging Others, Living out your Faith, Mindfulness 7 Comments

The question came completely out of the blue. 

I was talking with a friend who has very strong opinions politically, often quite different from my own. He generally tolerates (appreciates might be going a bit too far!) my questions which are usually focused on helping me better understand his positions and how he came to them. 

One day he turned the tables and asked me, “By the way, how did you originally get interested in trying to seek out and understand folks who are different or think differently than you do?”

The question really caught me off guard and I didn’t have an immediate answer. I hadn’t really spent any time trying to understand when or how this seed was planned, and why over the course of my life this has become somewhat of an obsession (which if you might have noticed if you read my blog regularly).

Barry in a rocking chair

Barry at home on the porch

There are probably a variety of contributing factors and turning points in my journey to embracing people who are different than me, especially real “characters.” However, if I had to put a date on its beginning, it would be September 6, 1965. That’s the day I arrived at Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades and met my new roommate, Barry.  

I grew up in a somewhat isolated small town of fairly like-minded folks who were uncomfortable with and often judged folks who were different. Coming to Williamson was out of my comfort zone so I was delighted to learn from the house mother that Barry was, like me, from Schuylkill county. “Good,” I thought, “someone like me that I will be able to relate to.”

I couldn’t have been more wrong! The instant we met, it was clear that we were as different as night and day! From his head to his toes, from his dress to his demeanor, we were nothing alike. Even the way we talked was different. Barry spoke with a pronounced Pennsylvania Dutch accent, slowly and intentionally, while I talked a lot, rapidly, and often on more than one topic at once!

The more we got to know each other, the more differences I found. 

Barry was serious, well behaved, straight laced, and a rule follower. None of those words were ever used to describe me! 

Barry was accepted to Williamson straight out of 11th grade based on his outstanding academic performance. I, on the other hand, was still trying to figure out how someone with my grades had ever even gotten in.  

Barry was studious and disciplined. I did what I had to when it came to studying and only as much as was absolutely necessary. 

Barry was an introvert; I was beyond extraverted. I was more interested in dating and hanging out with the guys, while Barry went home most weekends.

As I searched for similarities I continued to come up short.

We didn’t spend a lot of time together outside of our room, although Barry did tutor me in a couple of subjects. It wasn’t until an incident in our dorm room that I realized that Barry was much more than just a roommate to whom I’d been assigned.

On this particular occasion, a mutual friend crossed the line while heckling Barry about his luck with the ladies. I remember the look on Barry’s face and the sudden anger I felt. Without thinking I asked the classmate to step out on the fire escape with me, where I proceeded to explain that if he ever made a comment like that again he was no longer welcome in our room. I probably could have handled it better, but it did make me realize how much I valued Barry and his friendship. Looking back, it was probably my feelings for Barry that gave me the courage to confront a behavior that could hurt others, which may have been my first step on a path of advocacy in both my personal and professional life.

Barry and I ended up being roommates all through college and even over 50 years later, our friendship has continued to bless me in ways I still can’t fully recognize. I am learning to appreciate him more and more each visit we have.

Here are just a few of the learnings I’ve absorbed from Barry over the years. 

Appreciate the simple things in life.

“We need to have something to look forward to each day.” 

Barry seems to approach this philosophy by practicing a daily routine of a morning walk—usually several miles starting at daylight—then breakfast (always eggs) with his friends at Buddy’s Log Cabin. His afternoons include tapping his weekly growler for one glass (or very occasionally two) of Yuengling Chesterfield Ale at 3:00 and some reading on the back porch—sometimes from his friend’s monthly blog!

Although mindfulness, slowing down, and “living in the moment” have gained popularity recently, Barry has been practicing them his whole life. Who would have expected my “conventional” roommate to become such a forward-looking trendsetter? 

Be adaptable. When life shuts a door, look for the window.

You might think that with his love of routine Barry is inflexible. But that isn’t the case at all. One of the things I most appreciate about Barry is what I call his “creative adaptation.” 

For instance, Barry has been a member of a local hunting camp for many years and has developed several close friendships over that time. A few years ago, due to some physical challenges, he felt it was time to give up hunting. 

But instead of quitting the camp where he has invested a lot over the years, he decided to become the camp cook. At one point he admitted that he actually enjoys the cooking more than he did the hunting. I expect he probably gets more interaction time with his friends as he serves in this role.

Barry and I have talked at times about having “thriveable” plans for when hard times hit. These are similar to survival plans, but better! With thriveable plans we will emerge from difficult times healthier and more positive than we were when the difficulty surfaced.

often it is the very things we didnt choose that end up taking us places we never expect

Be honest. Not brutally honest. Just honest.

One time I started what I felt might be an awkward question with, “Barry, I want you to be honest with me about this…” Before I got to the question Barry interrupted me. 

“Why would you need to say that?” he asked, perturbed. “When have I ever been less than honest with you?” 

My (honest) response was, “I expect never!” 

How many people can you say that about? This incredible level of integrity is one of the things I most value in our 50-odd year friendship. 

Practice, don’t preach, your faith

About a year ago during a phone visit, I mentioned to Barry that since the Covid pandemic began, Rita and I had developed a list of folks living alone that we try to call every few weeks. 

In his slow and methodical Pennsylvania Dutch way Barry said, “I appreciate your concern but I need to explain something. Yes, I get lonely since Donna died but you need to understand I am never alone because God is always with me.”

I know a lot of people who are very vocal about their beliefs and can argue the fine points of any theological issue, but seldom have I heard a more powerful and profound statement of faith. This is the kind of quiet, sincere, life-affirming faith that I want to have.

March to the beat of your own drum.

It often seems like if you know one thing about someone, you can guess how they fall on a wide variety of other things. The type of job they have, how they will vote, their religious beliefs, their hobbies, what they drive, and even their restaurant and food preferences all seem to go together.

But Barry defies easy categorization. His views and interests cut across every dividing line. Just the other day I noticed his copy of America’s Test Kitchen right next to his monthly NRA magazine. He subscribes to both. I expect Barry may well be the only Pennsylvania Dutchman with these two magazines sitting side-by-side on his reading table! 

Be yourself, even when that makes you different from everyone else. Variety is the spice of life!

It turns out I am not the only one to appreciate Barry’s unique charms. As I mentioned earlier, Barry has a particular fondness for Yuengling’s Chesterfield Ale, which he indulges every afternoon at 3:00. Every Thursday he also takes a trip to Yuengling brewery, the oldest continuously-operating brewery in the United States. This weekly visit has created a special community for him with several friends he looks forward to seeing each week. 

The Yuengling community has become so devoted to Barry that when he turned 70, the employees and patrons, in cahoots with Barry’s family, arranged a surprise birthday party in which they secured the entire tasting room for several hours to celebrate how much they appreciated this special guy in their life! After Covid hit and Barry’s weekly visits to the brewery were temporarily suspended, several members of his new “family” at the brewery even began calling him regularly to check up on him!

I’d heard so much about them that I asked Barry if I could accompany him on one of his visits. His response was, “Let me set up a tour with my friend JJ, you especially will really enjoy her!” He was correct; her engaging personality, storytelling, and unique sense of humor clearly put her up there with one of the best tour guides I have ever come across. JJ and Barry on Tour

After the tour, JJ said, “I would like you to meet another of Barry’s friends, our owner Dick.” Within minutes I found myself and Barry in Dick Yuengling‘s office talking with him about growing up in Schuylkill county, his years playing baseball, and even some shenanigans as a young man! I learned much about my friend in those few hours. These folks, from JJ to the owner of the company, had come to appreciate this truly unique man just as I have.

In the end, I’ve learned many things from Barry, but probably more important than any one particular “lesson” is just to embrace the unexpected and unplanned. Often it is the very things we don’t choose that end up taking us places we never expect. I didn’t choose Barry to be part of my life; he was literally “assigned” to me. But if I’d gotten the roommate I thought I wanted, how much I would have missed out on! 

If you’d like to read about some other characters in my life, check out my posts Encountering God at the Roadside Diner and Celebrating Characters!.


  1. Who are your most long-term friends? What do you appreciate about them?
  2. Over the course of your life, who were you “thrown together” with that perhaps you would never have chosen as a friend but who ended up being an important person in your life for at least a period of time? 
  3. How do you think you have changed as a result of these friendships? How might your life have been different if they had not been a part of it?
  4. Which learnings from Barry are relevant to you? How?
  5. If someone was to write an article like this about you, what learnings do you think they might pick up from you?
  6. Celebrations like Barry’s 70th birthday party can often be extremely meaningful life events. Have you ever helped put on such an affair or been the recipient? How did it make you feel? 
  7. Is there someone in your life now who you could lift up with some kind of special event or surprise? What do you think it could do for them? For you? For others who might be involved? Would you be willing to actually try it and find out?


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September 1, 2021 12:45 pm

Terry, I so much enjoyed this article because it took me right back to the same date in 1965 when , I guess, we all had the same feelings about our new surroundings. So many new friends and some not so friendly (seniors). Barry is a good place to start but you could write a book about the “characters “ of 6W8.

September 1, 2021 1:41 pm

You have a gift in recognizing how to accept people for who they are and not dwell on your differences. Not too many people fall into that category and that is why we experience so many divisions today. Thank you.

Betty Christy
Betty Christy
September 1, 2021 2:28 pm

Terry, I so enjoyed reading this article. After reading each of your blogs, I try to emulate what you have written. Mostly coming up short, but trying. Jim and I hope to see you this winter sometime. Thanks for the blog. Betty C.

September 1, 2021 4:17 pm

When I was a Girl Scout (way back when), we sang songs around the campfire. A favorite was “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” We sang it as a round… a lovely memory. My oldest friend was my friend in kindergarten. (She was “Sheila D.” and I was “Suzy B.”) We still spend time with each other weekly. My newest friend I began spending time with since my retirement. We share family stories, books we have read, and our thoughts on any subject. She and her husband have traveled with Mike and… Read more »

Ruth Moser
Ruth Moser
September 8, 2021 9:31 am

My cousin, Barry’s sister, just forwarded this to my email this morning. I cried while reading this article…that’s how much it touched my heart. Barry was not only my cousin but was like an older brother. Thank you for sharing your experience!

October 4, 2021 10:01 am

[…] I said in my last post, it often is the very things we don’t choose that ends up taking us places we never e… In this case, the process we assumed would be filled with grief and loss was instead fertile with […]

February 1, 2024 9:21 am

[…] Our first stop on our way to Schuylkill was a breakfast meeting at Buddy’s Log Cabin Restaurant in Pine Grove, which, for me, is a pleasant step back in time! This is a common meeting place for Barry, my roommate from Williamson College of The Trades where we both graduated from in 1968. Another totally unique “character,” Barry is brilliant, loyal, and has a sense of humor that is altogether disarming! This time it was a suggestion that I hunt grouse after the wild grapes begin to ferment which, when eaten by the supposedly-unaware grouse, leaves them intoxicated and… Read more »