Recalling the Life and Times of Dave

Published in the Woonsocket Call on August 9, 2015

            Four days ago friends, Smith Hill colleagues, and media gathered at a memorial service to commemorate the life and times of the late David Raymond Barber, known to those attending simply as Dave, at Lachapelle Funeral Home. Over 100 people gathered at the Pawtucket funeral home to remember Dave, an award-winning veteran radio broadcaster with extensive experience in talk radio programming, marketing and advertising.

At the memorial service on August 6, everyone knew Dave had transitioned from radio talk show host to his current job at Capitol Television, .hosting the program “Straight from the Gavel.”  For those who tuned into this cable program, they learned the mysteries of political sausage making, specifically how bills became enacted into law.  During seven and a half years, he hosted 390 episodes of “Straight from the Gavel, and about 600 five-minute Capitol Spotlights, interviewing members of the state’s General Assembly.  His replacement will find that Dave has very big shoes to fill.

Sharing Personal Memories 

During the two-hour memorial service, personal stories where shared by a few of Dave’s colleagues and friends.

Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Jamestown) said that Dave always tuned into her radio show, “Amazing Women,” taped during the week and aired on Sunday morning. “He would take time to find me and comment about a question or a certain segment of the show.  That was Dave.  He was so genuine and honest,” said Ruggiero.

His liking of people made him a very good interviewer for the State House cable show television, added Ruggiero.  “He would always be present with the guest at the other side of the microphone. Nothing mattered to him but that conversation,” she said.

Luigi DelPonte, Senate Doorman for four years, remembered that a mutual love of fashion caused him to seek out the man who everyone said was a better dresser than him.  The North Providence resident said that after this initial meeting “You’d be hard pressed to find Dave with a hair out of place.  From his tanned skin, manicured finger nails and tailored suits to his French cuff shirts and shined shoes.”

“I guess some might just call him a Fashionista,” said Del Ponte.

When first meeting Dave, Ron St. Pierre, morning talk-show host on WHJJ-AM, knew that Dave was “conversationalist,” a talk show host “who knew there’s a big world out there beyond just politics.”

As to one of Dave’s most memorable shows on WPRO, St. Pierre remembers him telling callers to talk about their favorite summer song and then a snip of the tune would follow.  St. Pierre drove home enjoying the program.  Pulling into his driveway he listened to the last 20 minutes until the show went off the air.  “That’s he ultimate compliment you can pay anyone on the radio,” he said.

Dave’s Rhode Island Adventure

Rep. Dennis Canario (D-Portsmouth, Tiverton and Little Compton), brought up Dave’s love for his cream-colored Italian-made Vespa scooter.  “I helped him get his helmet painted to match the color of it,” said the Deputy Majority Leader. “He was the infamous social butterfly on two wheels,” he said, noting that following Barber’s adventures on his scooter was almost like “Where in Rhode Island is Dave now.”

Jason Golditch, Senior Producer and Director at Capitol Television, told a story to illustrate Dave’s love of baseball and his sense of humor.  Golditch says that oftentimes he would give out a fantasy baseball card with his image on the card along with a real major league baseball player wearing Detroit Tiger uniforms. “Little did those he gave the card to realize the photo was from a fantasy camp he once attended,” he added, noting that Dave would “go on to answer people’s questions about what it was like to play in the major leagues.”

Former WLNE-TV ABC 6 reporter and anchor Mark Curtis noted that Dave was “relentless” in using social media.  Over six years Dave sent him almost 1,000 Facebook messages, texts and tweets, many sharing news tips that would allow his television station to quickly break a story.

Protecting the Public Interest

For this writer, I can say that Dave used his microphone as a talk radio host in Michigan and his brief stint at WPRO in Rhode Island to protect the public interest.  He was very outspoken and opinionated, but his listeners loved him.  They regularly tuned in to hear him taking on some of the biggest political heavyweights in these states.  He was knowledgeable about his topic, yet very entertaining to boot.  More important, he got his points across well.

Oftentimes, the former Pawtucket resident who would later relocate to East Greenwich, would say to this writer that he was “never happier being in a job surrounded by politics 24/7.

Dave loved to watch Rhode Island’s political scene, critiquing to those who would listen how an elected official’s message would generate support or fall flat.  Like his days in talk show radio, he really called it like he saw it.

Progressive to the core, he was a strong union supporter.  In my many conversations with Dave he repeatedly stressed the need and importance of unions. He also brought his understanding of media to many of the Rhode Island nonprofits around the Ocean State including the historic Slater Mill to help raise money, also to give marketing and public relations tips gleaned from his years in the advertising business.

After a long workweek, or on weekends, you might just see him, very tanned puttering around South County on his creamed-colored Vespa.  He loved to go to the beach to view “the majestic Narragansett surf” at Bonnet Shores Beach Club, where he was a member. Or you might run into Dave leisurely reading the New York Post at his favorite East Greenwich breakfast joint, the Main Street Café or even Kip’s Restaurant in Pawtucket, when he lived in that city.

At age 60, Dave died too young but touched many people throughout his six decades of life.  From Facebook messages, it’s quite clear that little things in life do count even more than larger more visible ones.  Kind words and support at the exact time needed can have a major impact on a person and will be remembered decades later.  Over the years Dave was there for many, and they remembered him for that, too.

But, Dave’s untimely death gives everyone an important message how to live.  Each and every day tell your friends and loved you care for them and thank them for being in your life.  If you don’t do this, you may just never have that chance.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  His email is hweissri@aol.com.

Benefits of Preplanning and Prepaying Your Funeral

 Published October 19, 2012, Pawtucket Times          

            For the past six months, City registrar Kenneth McGill juggled his increased work load preparing for the September primary and upcoming Presidential elections while taking on the role of caregiver to his elder parents.  Dividing his time between his ailing father who was afflicted with lung cancer and a blood clot in his heart, and his frail mother who has COPD, this new role added up to countless hours per day,  taking care of both parents who were recently placed in nursing facilities.   

             With the passing of his 76-year-old father just a little over a week ago, McGill, age 51, who had never planned a funeral, was now forced into an uncomfortable role of making final arrangements.  “Dad had been seriously ill for the past 6 months, and we knew what he wanted but it was never put down in writing,” noted the aging baby boomer, who acknowledged the stress of attempting to balance the cost of the funeral while ensuring that his father’s wishes were being carried out.

             Like many, McGill and his 48-year-old wife Kristen, an employee of Memorial Hospital of Pawtucket, had never made pre-paid funeral plans for their parents.  While he had heard about pre-need funeral agreements, he just never thought about doing it “probably because of denial,” he said.  “You just never think your parents are going to die.”  

             As a result of his father’s recent death, McGill will go next week to Cheetham Funeral Home to now preplan his mother’s funeral.  “This makes a lot of sense because it will ultimately take the stress off my family,” he says.

 Preplanning a Parent’s Funeral

             While my background is in the field of aging, I will admit that I also found it stressful attempting to get my elderly parents to enter pre-need funeral arrangements.  After all, my three siblings and I were only trying to give our parents the opportunity to have a say in the minute details of their final arrangements.

             For years my elderly father took care of my mother with dementia – and after numerous conversations with him about the “what if’s…”, more importantly what if mother outlives him… the day finally came that my father was willing to visit the local Dallas funeral home.   With my confused mother at his side, my father, chose their caskets like he was purchasing a new car. He checked under the lid, thoroughly examined the lining and the wood, trying to make the best decision.    Ultimately, he would not buy the cheaper model, but chose the ‘nicer one’, a littler higher up on the price list.

            Of course, my father instructed the funeral director where their services should be held and who should be presiding over the ceremony. But what type of music, vocal, or instrumental did they want played?  Or would they like a visitation service or would they like to name their pallbearers?  All good questions asked by the director that all needed answers.   These decisions might have been made right then and there on the spot, without the added stress of a loved ones’ death setting the tone, but rather ‘pre-planned’ with careful thought.  But in the end, and unfortunately for us, my father backed out. 

            My father’s experience was not the norm because most aging baby boomers make it through the stressful process of pre-planning and prepaying in advance.

Transient Society Creates Need for Preplanning Funerals

            Ted Wynne, whose family has owned the Pawtucket-based Manning Heffern Funeral Home since 1868, sees a transient society where children are living in different states, fueling the demand for preplanning and prepayment.  “Parents want to take the pressure off their children who live thousands of miles away from making the burial arrangement,” Wynne says.  “Thus, they pay up front or set aside money for future funeral and burial payments”.

            With an aging population, one or both spouses will end up in a nursing or assisted living facility, noted Wynne, a fifth generation funeral director.  Initially, the social worker will educate the prospective residents to the importance of getting an “irrevocable trust contract”, to pay for the funeral in advance.  .

            “It is pretty black and white,” adds Wynne.  “You figure out what you want, the cost, and then determine what you want to put in the contract.” For others, it may take sitting down with the funeral director to help crystallize their funeral plans, he adds. 

Prepaying a Funeral at Today’s Prices

           Bradford Bellows, Funeral director of Bellows Chapel in Lincoln, agrees with Wynne that seniors in nursing facilities are also good candidates for prepaying a funeral.

         “The family watches their parents’ funds dwindle to a point where they are forced to go on Medicaid.”  Prior to being eligible for Medicaid, the older parent or their children should prepay the funeral costs.  Assets given to the funeral home are allowed to be given under Medicaid eligibility guidelines prior to going on Medicaid.

            “Consumers must understand that prearranging a funeral is not the same as prepaying for one,” Bellows adds, whose family has been in the funeral business in the BlackstoneValley for 191 years.

            “By pre-paying a funeral you are actually paying for a funeral at today’s prices, not tomorrow’s”, Bellow says.  “If the funeral occurs in the future, the funds will earn interest which will be used to pay for the cost of the funeral at the time of death.”

            Bellows, a funeral director for 40 years, offers these tips when pre-paying your funeral:

            First, make sure that your Social Security number is indicated on our savings account or insurance policy where the monies are placed to prepay your funeral.  If the funeral home ever goes out of business or goes bankrupt, the funds are still yours and are safe, and can easily be transferred to another funeral home.

            Second, when you enroll in the Medicaid program, all the funds in your prepayment account must be used. Any excess funds will be returned by the funeral home the State of Rhode Island, to defray health costs incurred by the OceanState’s Medicaid program.

            Finally, once the funeral home opens the account or insurance policy, don’t forget to get a copy of the Irrevocable Funeral Trust Agreement, showing the bank or credit union account number or the original insurance policy that was issued.  This will give you proof that your advance payment has been set up for your funeral needs..

Make an Educated Decision

            Life Insurance agent Christine Miller, a preplanning funding specialist at Pawtucket-based Lachapelle Funeral Home and a grief counselor at Beacon Hospice, notes that preplanning and prepayment for a funeral can reduce family stress. “Knowing your loved ones final wishes and not having the financial burden of a funeral can provide relief during a very difficult time, she added.

            According to Miller, it is not uncommon to have individuals to call weekly to preplan their funerals. “Many people are surprised that at Lachapelle Funeral Home they can make small monthly payments rather than one lump sum and still have their funeral guaranteed,” she noted.

            Miller stresses the importance of doing your home work in determining which prepayment option is best for you. “There use to be a loyalty to funeral homes but in these times people should shop around, talk to people with the goal of making an educated decision.”

            For consumer tips on planning and prepaying a funeral, go to http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/products/pro19.shtm.

            Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.