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A friend lives on — in our minds, and online

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Updated: March 3, 2014 5:00PM



Rick Barter slipped away on Dec. 27 at a nursing home in Evansville, after battling Parkinson’s for years. He was 66. Until the very end, he gave as good as he got.

The occasion of his exit from this world did not go unnoticed by friends of whom there are far more than I had known.

The reason I now know Rick’s friends is that Facebook and old loyalties have made his passing a moment of electronic immortality. Dozens of friends, relatives and old chums have come to say goodbye.

His Facebook page still exists. He’s gotten birthday wishes after his passing. People chat with him as if he’s listening.

There is no particular reason why you should know Rick. So I will try to explain him to you.

In the decades ago of my journalistic youth, Rick and I were competitors who did the same job. In those days — you will be shocked and startled by this historical revelation — three newspapers served Evansville.

Mine was the morning newspaper, the Courier. The afternoon newspaper was The Press. And then there was a third outpost, which published only on Sunday but possessed its own staff, independence and pride. Theoretically, the two dailies “owned” the Sunday paper, but no one involved in daily journalistic combat paid any attention to corporate realities.

We fought like cats and dogs. And angry mongooses.

Some competitors we despised and loathed. But mostly we were good-natured warriors who put down our shields and swords at the end of the day. We shared beers at a late-night Press Club that produced many notable events, only a few of which I could repeat without embarrassment.

Rick was an editor at the Sunday newspaper, and a good newsman. He worked hard, produced a good newspaper and his reporters trusted him from what I could tell. He eventually left Evansville and worked for a newspaper in the Region. It’s the paper whose identity We Dare Not Name.

I cannot remember exactly when, but a moment arrived when I figured out that Rick was gay. The circumstances escape me now.

But I do remember having no response at all. It was as if someone had revealed Rick was left-handed or smoked too much or had Estonian grandparents. I was surprised that someone thought the scuttlebutt was important. Also maybe I was just socially dense. That’s definitely possible.

I had not talked to Rick for decades until just weeks before his death. He was struggling physically, and frustrated that life had become so difficult.

But mostly he wanted to talk about being Roman Catholic. He had converted in 2008, and discovered a touchstone for life that long had eluded him. But he made up for tardiness with a fierce loyalty to a God he now trusted more than life.

His parish in Evansville, St. Mary, had become a beacon for people of alternative styles, choices and persuasions. It was a rainbow house of worship and proudly defiant about it.

Rick was both angry and sad that Indiana’s politicians sought to diminish gay people. In that battle, Rick was a particular quandary for bigots. How can you support civic discrimination against a man whose religion has lifted his soul? He chose his God, but not his sexuality. He arrived built that way.

Rick scorned the state Legislature as the home for buffoons. He was angry with Republicans in general for sanctimonious hypocrisy.

One of these days, he knew would have to surrender that anger to Christian forgiveness. It would be a hard bargain for him. Loving your enemies is the most dubious of Christian principles.

I do not know if he ever crossed that bridge. Maybe there was not enough time, and the state GOP sent no signal it wanted to forgive or be forgiven.

His friends still show up on Facebook and tell him goodbye. If Rick is right about God, he will have found the peace he deserved.

I do not know what gets your Facebook page tossed into the trashcan. With luck, whoever makes decisions about Facebook never figures out that Rick is gone.

In some ways, as long as his Facebook stays alive, I think he will, too.

David Rutter was an editor at six community newspapers more than 40 years, including nearly a decade as managing editor of the Post-Tribune. His column appears Sundays in the Post-Tribune. Contact him at david. rutter@live.com.



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