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Bob Barnes gave Norwalk everything he had

By Ken Leber • May 22, 2017 at 9:00 AM

I am honored to say a few words about Bob. His life was small-town success story. He lost his dad when he was but 16 yrs of age and had to go to work. Thirty-one years later at the age of 47, Bob had the courage to leave factory life to become P&R director. He was fearless. He raised up from a meager beginning to become one of the most successful department heads in the history of Norwalk.

A funny story about Bob took place when he was umpire in chief. His first secretary, Mrs. V. (Vartorella), told the story of a disgruntled softball player who came into the office early one morning demanding to see the director. He had an issue with an umpire and he wanted satisfaction. She asked who was the ump that caused his consternation, and he simply replied some guy named Barnes. She smiled to herself, knowing what the poor guy was about to face, and asked him to take a seat until the director arrived.

Bob was my mentor. He gave me an opportunity to follow my dreams into a profession that he demonstrated how it should be done. I was his right-hand man for nearly 20 years. Very few knew what he was about. He was a series of contradictions. He was a public figure, but a very private man. He was both demanding and protective. He was often perceived as one tough son of gun, but had a heart of gold.

Though small in stature, he intimidated bullies, not the other way around. He was a tough as they come. Not one to seek the limelight — he preferred the background. He believed in paying your dues and he led by example. He was a perfectionist. He delighted in providing counsel to youngsters and his passion was working with the youth programs. Bob gave the citizens of Norwalk more than they had the right to ask for. Rest well.

Ken Leber is former Norwalk Parks and Recreation director. He was hired by Barnes and replaced Barnes as director.

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