Hodgepodge by Charlie Hodge – R.I.P. Noel Barber

My return phone call went nowhere. A caution sign I probably should have picked up on, however perhaps I was too absorbed with me at the moment. I’ve been doing too much of that lately.

Regardless – I failed to reconnect with him.

I allowed the garbled, confusing phone message to slip my memory and not responded to a second time. Now it’s too late. I failed to be there for a friend who felt the need to reach out.

I know we are all capable of such actions (or in this case non-action) yet that does not diminish my angst and disappointment in myself. I waited too long.

My friend Noel has died.

Well known Kelowna musician and man about town Noel Barber died earlier this week from significant health issues and complications. It was a long fight with a body that was not his friend the past year or two.

Life was a struggle for Noel the majority of time I knew him, however he battled through depression and addictions with music, faith and friendship his positive chosen coping companions. I spent a lot of time laughing, chatting and playing music with Noel – he taught himself harmonica and learned it well.

I first met him back in the glory days of Jonathan Seagull’s a funky pub/restaurant featuring live music (where Kelly O’s now exists). Noel was a regular at jam night – and most other nights the place was open. He was a ‘regular’ everyone knew.

Over the years Noel battled heartache, hardship and health issues wearing all three on his sleeve – however we loved him dearly. His heart was kind, his soul tender, his compassion and caring clear and obvious. If you were Noel’s friend then you had a friend for life.

Two years ago at one of my annual barbecue events Noel gave he a handmade shoulder bag he’d crafted to hold my portable oxygen machine in. It was a tremendous help and took some ingenuity to create. I was surprised and thankful for his kindness. That was how Noel rolled.

I learned of Noel’s demise this week like many of us learn information lately – online. Well known former Metro minister Laurence East posted this poignant commentary that sums up Noel well and seems perfect to repeat here.

“Yesterday evening, a wonderful friend, a noble heart and a straight-talking, stubborn survivor; a ‘Grandpa’ to the street community, (and many others) passed into the arms of his Creator and found peace and freedom from his pain. Noel Barber, born (as you might have guessed from the name) on Christmas Day, 1951 – was a generous, compassionate soul; a talented musician, a community advocate and a tireless pursuer of justice.

“In his last few weeks, in our many chats, Noel insisted that he didn’t want tears, he wanted a celebration of life. He wanted me to tell you he was SO excited to see Jesus, and he had made his amends, asked for forgiveness, and was ready to go. Even in his final days and hours the prospect of finding freedom in eternity brought him to tears of joy.

“There will be opportunity to share stories, laugh, play music and remember our friend. I for one will never listen to the song, ‘Amazing Grace’ the same way ever again, nor hear a harmonica without thinking of him.

“Noel’s family have asked for some time and space – there will be a public celebration of life in mid-July in Stuart Park, downtown (where Noel used to busk). Looking forward to seeing you all then.

“At the end, his heart was at peace – and a few days before he passed, we laughed when I told him I was expecting him to find ‘all the best places to hangout’ on the other side. After all, Noel always knew where to go. “I’ll be there waiting for you with a hug”, he murmured and smiled, and drifted off to sleep.

I love you Noel. Thank you for the gift you have been to me and so many others.”

Well said Laurence

Rest in Peace Noel.

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Charlie Hodge is a best-selling author, writer, a current Kelowna City Councillor, and a Director on the Regional District of the Central Okanagan Board. He spent more than 25 years as a full-time newspaper journalist and has a diverse background in public relations, promotions, personal coaching, and strategic planning. A former managing editor, assistant editor, sports editor, entertainment editor, journalist, and photographer, Hodge also co-hosted a variety of radio talk shows and still writes a regular weekly newspaper column titled Hodge Podge, which he has crafted now for 41 years. His biography on Howie Meeker, titled Golly Gee It’s Me is a Canadian bestseller and his second book, Stop It There, Back It Up – 50 Years of the NHL garnered lots of attention from media and hockey fans alike. Charlie is currently working on a third hockey book, as well as a contracted historical/fiction novel. His creative promotional skills and strategic planning have been utilized for many years in the Canadian music industry, provincial, national, and international environmental fields, and municipal, provincial, and federal politics. Charlie is a skilled facilitator, a dynamic motivational speaker, and effective personal coach. His hobbies include gardening, canoeing, playing pool, and writing music. Charlie shares his Okanagan home with wife Teresa and five spoiled cats.


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