A bright, shining light was extinguished on July 8, 1987, when Timothy Leon Barber was killed in a two-car collision on Route 104 just west of Williamson. The youngest of 16 children of Arthur and Ethel Barber, Tim had just graduated from Williamson Central School on June 22 and had plans to attend Oakwood College (now University), a traditional Seventh-day Adventist college in Huntsville, Alabama.
While Tim passed away less than a month before his 19th birthday, he accomplished much in his life, bringing pleasure and joy to family, friends, co-workers and the community at large. At Williamson, he was a good student, actively involved in the school choir and on both the basketball and track teams.
In 1981 he joined the Antioch Seventh-day Adventist Church in Williamson. Using his musical talents, Tim served as the church chorister and as a lead singer and soloist for the Antioch Ambassadors, an a capella gospel group. At a fundraising event several years ago, several of his young relatives reformed the group and sang. He also served as Sabbath School Secretary and Assistant Adventist Youth Society leader, sharing his love of God and his vision for a better future with his peers. Denise Devalk remembers Tim as “a spiritual person with close ties to his church family.”
Devalk continues to be a member of Wayne Action for Racial Equality — or WARE — and remembers him attending WARE meetings “back when people were bonding around personal experiences with racism. Tim was very insightful for a young person and his curiosity led him to even call members after a meeting to talk more about an idea he heard.”
Jim Wood, another WARE founding member, recalls that Tim was active in WARE right up until his death. He recalls Tim “recruiting other young people, as we had more youth involvement back then as a result of his networking.”
WARE soon established the Timothy Barber Memorial Scholarship to help other African American youth who have the same dream to attend college. Both Devalk and Wood remember Tim working with family members at McDonald’s in Williamson.
“He made such an impression on his supervisors that they were more than supportive (maybe it was their idea) of a breakfast to benefit the scholarship WARE established in his name,” Devalk said.
The scholarship awardees, now four Wayne County students a year, are announced at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration in January sponsored by WARE. Wood reflected on how the entire Barber family supported the establishment of this scholarship, given since 1989 to students of color in Wayne County who aspire to higher education, as Tim did.
“It helped motivate the start of the WARE Mentor Program which lasted deep into the 1990s, as WARE has always been supporting youth to go to college from Tim’s day until now,” he said.
Wood also observed, “this scholarship gives WARE stature in the community because of its consistent work to recognize superlative Black students in Wayne County.”
Even at his young age, Tim served as a board member of the Wayne County Youth Bureau, participating in making decisions regarding youth programs and their funding. Following his death, he was honored in a ceremony of celebration held at the then Come-Unity Center on West Main Street in September, 1987. Billie Rae Walker spoke about the character and service Tim had rendered, a plaque was presented to his parents and John Joyce of WARE formally announced the beginning of the Timothy Barber Memorial Scholarship.
The following month, a Children’s Memorial Grove was dedicated at Williamson High School. The idea of trees for remembrance was first proposed by the late Sue Webber Sink, Tim’s English teacher, who published a poem in The Williamson Sun after another accident took the lives of Michael and Maureen Wright. A tree in honor of Tim was one of the 13 planted along the driveway in front of the school.
Such a deserving legacy, all to honor Tim’s “vision for a better future with all he met,” states the Timothy Barber Memorial Scholarship brochure. The brochure went on to observe, “Tim encouraged young people to look at the world as it is and look for ways to make positive changes.” This was especially true for young African American students, as he wished they “could have the opportunity to achieve their highest goals,” and he worked hard to remove the barriers to their success.
Thanks to the role model Tim was and the foresight of WARE, many African-American students throughout Wayne County have been assisted by the Timothy Barber Memorial Scholarship since 1989. Tim would be proud of WARE’s efforts in giving Wayne County students of color this opportunity, one he was unable to fulfill himself.