EAST PROVIDENCE — Past and present students, faculty and staff, family and friends gathered on a sun-drenched morning Friday, June 20, for a memorial service honoring the late James Barron, a beloved former guidance counselor at East Providence High School who passed away in December.
In honor of his 25 years of work as both a counselor and driver’s education teacher, the EPHS Townie Volunteer Corps. dedicated in his memory a tree planted next to the school tennis courts. As the school’s student-based community service organization, the Volunteer Corps. had originally planned to plant the tree as an Earth Day project. EPHS junior Hayley Bourgault proposed dedicating the tree to Mr. Barron.
(To view photos from the memorial click here…)
The service was hosted by Volunteer Corps. President Hannah Gomez and, in addition to Ms. Bourgault, featured EPHS Principal Janet Sheehan, Director of Guidance Patricia Almquist, Schools Superintendent Kim Mercer and House Representative and EPHS teacher Gregg Amore as speakers.
Principal Sheehan recalled Mr. Barron’s “wonderful Irish temperament” and thanked the students for devising the memorial.
“I think of Jim and I think this is exactly what he would have wanted,” she said.
Mrs. Almquist told the crowd that “there was not a better person to work with” than Mr. Barron.
“It was never a bad day for Jim,” she said. “Jim made us laugh like no others. Barely a day goes by in the office that we don’t quote something funny that Jim said to us and it’s always just a wonderful day.”
Mrs. Almquist stated that Mr. Barron was a role model to everyone at the school and that his devotion to the students was evident in everything he did.
“We will never know the depth of influence that Jim had on the lives of the countless young men and women, but we do know with certainty one thing: that everyone is a better person for having been touched by Jim,” she explained.
In reference to a toast Mr. Barron would often give, Mrs. Almquist finished her speech by leading the crowd in a final toast to her colleague: “There are good ships and wood ships and ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships and may they always be.”
Ms. Bourgault recalled how Mr. Barron was always encouraging to his students and emphasized how they are more than simply a test score. He would also express interest in his students’ lives at home.
“Our frequent conversations showed me that he cared enough to take time out of his life to get to know me – one of his students,” Ms. Bourgault explained. “Mr. Barron’s time and empathy for his students will never be forgotten.”
Empathizing with the Barron family’s pain of losing a relative to cancer, Ms. Bourgault expressed that Mr. Barron deserves respect for touching the entire EPHS community.
“I don’t know what this tree means to the individuals in this group, but for everyone and Mr. Barron’s family, I hope it forever symbolizes what Mr. Barron symbolized: hope, understanding, empathy and courage,” Ms. Bourgault concluded. “As this tree grows every year, so do his students grow into better people, because he touched their lives.”
Ms. Bourgault finished her speech by leading the crowd in a prayer for Mr. Barron.
Superintendent Mercer presented Mr. Barron’s family with a certificate for the years of service and dedication he gave to the students of East Providence.
Rep. Amore read a statement from the General Assembly, offering “sincerest appreciation to the Barron family… in remembrance of [Mr. Barron’s] life, work and faithfully serving the students of EPHS with passion, compassion and professionalism.”
“The tree is a perfect symbol of what Jim did here for so long,” Rep. Amore expressed as a colleague of Mr. Barron’s. “He nurtured and helped students grow both as students, but more importantly, as people.”
Ms. Gomez ended the ceremony by presenting EPHS graduate Joseph Pereira with the first James Barron Scholarship for $600.
Following the ceremony, Mr. Barron’s wife Janice expressed her appreciation for the memorial.
“I think that it was a great memorial to my husband, who wanted to be here more than any other place in the world,” she said. “He loved the students and he used to say ‘I would do that job if they didn’t even pay me.’
Mrs. Barron recalled how her husband would drive from Jamestown to East Providence and back every school day, driven only by a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and the thoughts of all of his students. She commented that the memorial is perfect for him.
“He loved trees,” Mrs. Barron explained. “He loved to work in the yard. It’s a beautiful tie-in for him. I’m sure he’s up there looking down saying ‘Thank you.’”