Remembering Jim Barri

Published by Minnesota Atheists on

By Steve Petersen

Longtime member Jim Barri died on July 5, 2021. He was 68. Jim had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer about two years ago. He had found it early and thought his prognosis was good but in the end the cancer ended his life.

Jim grew up in Chicago and was born into a Catholic Italian family. He went to Catholic schools but at some point, he freed his mind of religious superstition and lived as an atheist. He moved to Minneapolis from Chicago after the airline he worked for was bought by Northwest now Delta Airlines. In 1994 or 1995, he joined Minnesota Atheists. Jim became part of the fabric of MNA quickly. His interests were being with like minded people for the social benefits. He was comfortable with his views on God and religion and enjoyed conversation, togetherness and he had a desire to support secular causes. The one value that stood out about Jim right from the first meeting was how easy it was to talk with Jim about a wide variety of subjects. That was based on his broad spectrum of reading habits, film knowledge and interest in community theater. When I had learned Jim was a baggage handler for an airline, I was at first stunned. He seemed to be over-qualified, but in reality, after understanding him and his working-class family roots based in Chicago, I understood his choice. Having a union job with an airline was in keeping with his upbringing and it provided him with the income needed to supplement his pursuit of happiness, through the consumption of the printed and spoken word and the study of the human condition.

We had talked many times about his all-time favorite American freethinker, Robert Green Ingersoll. I had interviewed him on our cable and radio programs on Ingersoll and he spoke about him at an MNA Day of Reason event at the State Capitol. About 15 years ago while traveling in the Finger Lakes area of New York we stopped at the Ingersoll birthplace and there on the wall was Jim’s name as a benefactor. Ingersoll was a prolific writer and is frequently quoted. Jim’s life particularly exemplified two of these quotes: “Happiness is not a reward – it is a consequence; suffering is not a punishment – it is a result” and “Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so.” That is Jim’s life from my perspective.

Jim was attracted to Minnesota Atheists by its community of freethinkers. He was a regular at picnics, dinners, reel and a meal events, the flying spaghetti monster dinner, food packing and any other event with a social component. It brought him enormous happiness and, whether we realized it or not, his presence did the same for us.

My last conversation with Jim was at a picnic shortly before he died. We talked about books as we had often done. Jim’s recollection of books he read long ago never faded he could recall the characters and the plot like he just finished the book yesterday.

At our last picnic before Jim died, where attendees provided Jim with some happiness for a day in relief of his cancer treatments and of the reality of his prognosis. While he was still optimistic that he would overcome this cancer, he also understood the reality of his predicament. The photo from that day Jim and Laurie Weiss Johnson leaves us with a memory of a life will lived.

In closing, this is from Ingersoll on death:

I now in the presence of death, affirm and reaffirm the truth of all that I have said against the superstitions of the world. I would say at least that much on the subject with my last breath.

Robert G. Ingersoll
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