Cobden — Where does one begin to compose a fitting tribute to a man who has been instrumental in so many of the good aspects of life in his community? That is the challenge in the face of the death of businessman Ted Barron of Cobden.
Edwin (Ted) Alan Barron passed away peacefully in the Queensway-Carleton Hospital, Ottawa, on Thursday, February 3 in his 80th year after a brief illness.
In the spring of 1974, Ted purchased an already historic business in Cobden, General Insurance Agencies, from Leslie Collins who in turn had purchased it from the late Hugh McGinn in 1924. Also in 1974, he became licenced as a real estate salesman, working for a Pembroke-based company.
In 1978, he completed the courses to qualify him as a real estate broker and formed his company, E. A. Ted Barron Realty and Insurance Limited. More recently the business dropped the real estate arm, and Ted continued as full partner in E. A. Ted Barron Insurance with his daughter, Julie Hennessy, until the time of his death. Even though Julie has been serving in the managerial role since she joined the business in 1993, Ted maintained his office in the building at 34 Main Street in Cobden and spent his days there right up until the time of his final illness.
“It was the best of both worlds – retirement and still being a part of the business,” said Julie.
Another very visible aspect of Ted’s impact in the community was the Civitan Club, of which he was a founding member in 1974.
“Ted’s office was really the town office,” said Mary Moss, a Cobden Civitan member and spokesperson for the club. “From the beginning of Civitan until now, and for a variety of activities/events (for Civitan or any other organization) Ted’s office was the meeting place, the ‘run your idea by’ place, the drop-off and pick-up place (for fishing derby and 50/50 tickets, cake sales, the golf tournament, etc), the place where many community members would come to talk about happy times and troubled times.”
He was Civitan president three times and was honoured with a life membership. He was also a founding member of the golf tournament and was a key organizer for it for all of its 26 years. He was involved in the purchase of the Civitan building, in the Civitan fundraising donation ($100,000) for the arena when it was built, the nature trail next to Muskrat Lake, and the Santa Claus parade in which he and his wife, Daphne, were once Mr. and Mrs. Claus. At other times he took the role of announcer for the floats in the parade as it made its way along Main Street.
“Veteran’s Memorial Park on Highway 17 was one of his passions,” Ms. Moss said. “He was involved in the building of the original kiosk and tourist information booth, the annual clean-up, the purchase by Civitan of the electronic sign and most recently the building of the bandshell, for which he arranged the music the past two summers.
“He was a relentless volunteer when Civitan was called upon - the Cobden Fair gates, wherever our food trailer was being used, the school barbecue every year, and years ago the street dance, the Grand Ole Opry, soap box derby, the mystery tours.” He looked after the rental of the Civitan building and was on the club’s Benevolence Committee.
“Everyone knew Ted, so if someone needed help the request would often come to him,” Ms. Moss noted. “At every event or activity we had, no matter what the weather, you would find Ted organizing or volunteering — extra shifts if needed — and Daphne would be there too. If you had an idea for something and got ‘Ted’ approval, it would most often fly and Ted would help you make it happen. “He was one of a kind, larger than life, and our community leader.”
A Great Community Volunteer
The current president of the Cobden Civitan Club, John Cull, echoed Ms. Moss’s sentiments.
“He was a great community volunteer,” said Mr. Cull. “He cared deeply about his community and was a pleasure to work with.”
Another component of community life where his loss is being sadly felt is in his church, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian in Cobden.
The current minister there, the Rev. Pat van Gelder, who will be retiring at the end of this month after almost 30 years in that position, said Ted had fulfilled many roles in his church community over the years: as treasurer, Sunday School superintendent, and elder (lay spiritual leader).
“The simplest way to put it is, if there was a job that needed doing, and he was able to do it, he did it,” she said. “When he took on a task, he would follow through.”
An example was the Sunday services held at the bandshell in the Veteran’s Memorial Park adjacent to the church for the past two summers.
“Ted made it happen, including physical help in bringing and setting up the PA and other equipment over from the church,” she said. “There was one Sunday that he could not be there during that time, and he arranged for someone else to do it.”
She recalls only one time Ted said “no” to her.
“At that time he was travelling every weekend with his grandchildren to sports tournaments and could not be there,” she said.
Ted was born on July 23, 1942, in the Barrie area to Eddie and Doreen Barron. His father was away serving in the military during World War 2 and because of conditions at the time he was in need of foster care. He came into the care of Donald and Olive McLeod at their farm in the Cobden area, and remained with them until the fall of 1949 when he had finished Grade 3 at the Cobden Elementary School. He was then able to return to Barrie. However, he would spend summers with the McLeod’s.
In 1959, he returned to stay with the McLeod’s and re-entered the Cobden school system, enrolling in Grade 12 at Cobden High School where one of his teachers was the late Don Whillans, who later became the first principal at the newly-built Opeongo High School in 1968.
Upon his return to Cobden, he reconnected with friends going back to his earlier time there, twin brothers Keith and Harry Sparling. Harry, who became Ted’s brother-in-law much later when he married Barbara Gutz and Ted married her sister, Daphne Gutz, first met Ted as a pre-schooler at a play date with Ted at the McLeod home.
Keith, Harry and Ted all enrolled in the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph and shared the largest room in the residence there. The three graduates shared their dedication to their education and graduated in 1965, Ted with an honours degree in soil science.
“We couldn’t afford to party,” recalls Harry.
However, there was room for football. Ted had played football at Cobden High School, coached by Don Whillans. On one occasion a visiting referee who had refereed professional football was in attendance, and after observing Ted in action, told Mr. Whillans “that guy could be a walk-on for any team in the country.”
And that’s what happened at Guelph.
“We couldn’t afford to go there two weeks early for tryouts, as most of the players did,” said Harry. “We drove in one day and the next day was a practice.”
Ted was accepted on the team as a walk-on and the following weekend played in an exhibition game against Queen’s University.
Upon graduation, the trio returned to the Cobden area and started dating their future partners.
“The three of us (couples) travelled together on weekends to dances and on other outings,” recalls Harry. “Ted was more like a brother than a brother-in-law to me. It was always good to sit down with him and have a talk. We sometimes had differing points of view but never any real disagreements. He was genuinely interested in people and especially in kids. The kids always came first for him.”
Taught In Eganville and Then At Opeongo
Ted’s main ambition at that time was to become a teacher. He was hired by Mr. Whillans in 1967 who was then principal at Eganville District High School (EDHS) to teach sciences (chemistry and biology). The following year the high schools in Cobden and Eganville amalgamated to become the new Opeongo High School (OHS) near Kelly’s Corner. Mr. Whillans was the first principal there and, when the school opened in the fall of 1968, he hired Ted as science department head.
Although his time as a teacher was relatively short before he ventured into the business world, he made a lasting contribution on colleagues and students alike.
Dan Quinn was a fellow teacher of Ted’s on the original staff at OHS.
“Ted was never afraid of a challenge,” he said. “He was only at Opeongo for seven years, but during that time he was not only head of the science department but also principal of the night school and teacher in summer school. He always coached football but did basketball too, and did some farming besides.”
Mr. Quinn was also a farmer, and he and Ted helped each other out. Ted’s tenacity was illustrated by an incident when they were loading pigs onto a truck. Pigs are not known for being cooperative, and it wasn’t going well.
“One pig turned around and was coming back down the ramp,” he said. “Ted just picked up the pig and threw it back into the truck. I couldn’t believe someone was as strong and as stubborn as a pig.”
To leave a teaching career and its associated security and benefits for the uncertainty of the business world is not for the faint of heart. But for Ted it was just another challenge.
His humility also left a lasting impression.
As he was getting established in insurance and real estate, he operated a pool installation business for a time, with Mr. Quinn and Ted’s then brother-in-law, Harry Sparling, helping him.
“One time I was shovelling (cement) and Ted was trowelling,” recalled Mr. Quinn. “I commented that it wasn’t a very good job. ‘If you can do better, here’s the trowel,’ Ted said as he handed me the trowel. From then on I did the trowelling. He had no ego and did not hold grudges.”
Their lives continued to intersect over the years with both coaching sports, playing old timers’ hockey together, and working together in Civitan.
Students Share Memories
“He was the kind of friend you want to have. I find it hard to believe he’s gone.”
Stewart Lavigueur, who was Head Boy at OHS during Ted’s time as a teacher and sports coach there, and before that a student at EDHS, remembers him as a wonderful teacher.
“If you went into his class hating science, you liked it before you were done,” he said. “And you did well because you didn’t want to disappoint him.”
He transmitted the same feeling into sports coaching.
“He would get right in with us on the front line and ‘pay the price’ that went with that, just as he expected from us,” he said. “We won the championship for EDHS that year. I still have my ‘Barron’s Bombers’ jacket.”
The Eganville team practiced in a pasture field on the Lett farm, near the intersection of Highways 41 and 60 just north of the village.
“He would direct us to shovel the cow manure off the field in the mornings before a practice,” recalls Mr. Lavigueur. “We dressed in one of the horse stalls.”
He remembers his former teacher-coach with affection.
“I hope when I die people say the same things about me as they are saying about Ted,” he said. “He was just a nice guy, as a teacher, a coach, and a person. I’m sure those are the same qualities that later led him to be so successful in business.”
Another former student, Terry Hoelke, who himself later went on to become a teacher at OHS, remembers him as “an amazing science teacher.”
“Some of us were tech boys who didn’t want to be in science class,” he said. “He kept us amused and attentive. One day he was explaining the composition of water. He put two units of hydrogen into a Javex bottle and added one unit of oxygen. But, someone said, you still don’t have water. He said you need a chemical reaction. He lit a match over the bottle and caused an explosion that blew out one of the ceiling tiles. We were awake then. But I don’t think you’d get away with that today.
“He was a tough coach. He expected you do well, and do the hard work it took to succeed.”
Served As Chair of RCDSB
Even though he left teaching as a career, education continued to be an interest of Ted’s. Dave Shields, representing Beachburg and Westmeath at the time, served on the Renfrew County District School Board (RCDSB) with Ted from 1984 until 1994. Ted served a term as board chair after that.
“He was a really good representative for his area, at that time Cobden and Ross Mineview elementary schools and OHS,” recalls Mr. Shields. “He was also very supportive of the Community Health Centre movement which resulted in the establishment of the Whitewater-Bromley Community Health Centre. He and I also worked together on organizing all-candidates’ nights.”
Besides his business, which included creation of some rental units, the Civitan Club, his church, and education, there was more. He was on the founding board of the Cobden and District Business Association which has since disbanded. He served for three years on Bromley Township Council which was later amalgamated with Admaston Township.
Lauretta Rice, who served as Bromley Township clerk, remembers him as dedicated and sincere.
“He applied his teacher talents to his work on council,” she said. “When there was a decision to be made, he made it. No beating around the bush.”
He coached minor hockey in Cobden.
“In the early 1970s it was on an outdoor rink,” recalls fellow coach Stan Keon. “I remember his booming voice. With the little guys that was an asset. He was involved with the Cobden Athletic Association which operated the arena and ballfield until amalgamation made it part of Whitewater Region and the new municipality took over.”
He coached both house league and all-star teams, mainly at the Atom and Peewee level, from 1973 until 1983, and also served as a hockey referee to minor and senior hockey in the area. He was president of both Muskrat Minor Hockey and the Laurentian Hockey League. He chaired Phase II of the then new Cobden Arena, which saw the installation of artificial ice and the construction of two dressing rooms, a Zamboni room, and the hall above the lobby in 1984.
Other business interests included operating a golf driving range, providing the space in the building for a café operated by his son, Rob, and for a fabric store and alterations business for his wife, Daphne.
In the late 1980s he combined his professional, farming and teaching skills by teaching courses for the Ontario Real Estate Board in rural recreation and agriculture to practicing real estate salespeople in the province. He also served from 2002 until 2012 on the board of the Renfrew County Community Futures Development Corporation, which works with entrepreneurs and communities to create sustainable small businesses.
But, of course, those most strongly impacted by his loss are his immediate family: his wife, Daphne, and their children, Julie Hennessy and her husband Mike, Chris and his wife Diane, and their families. Their other son, Rob, died in a tragic fire in January of 1994 at the age of 26.
“We did so much together,” said Chris. “Every day he talked to me. Anything he could do, he did. I guess I have followed in his footsteps, but he outdid me. We did so much together.”
He recalls countless family trips and spending time with his family in Florida at his parents’ condo for many years.
“My parents came to every one of their grandchildren’s hockey games and out-of-town tournaments. They were more like a mom and dad than grandparents to them.”
Victim of COVID
When Ted first started feeling unwell with what he thought was a cold on January 14, Chris was concerned that it might be COVID, especially since he wasn’t vaccinated, but it wasn’t until January 22 that it was confirmed. On January 23 he went to hospital in Pembroke by ambulance, and on January 28 he was transported to the Queensway-Carleton Hospital for more specialized treatment. He passed away on February 3.
“The COVID drilled him hard,” said Chris.
“He wasn’t an ordinary husband, father, or grandfather. He was special. He will be missed.”
His daughter and business partner, Julie, echoes her brother’s sentiments.
“He was so proud of his children and grandchildren,” she said. “He never missed a hockey or a ball game. Every event his grandchildren did, he was there. He was a powerful figure in their lives. And he was not only their grandpa. He was a lot of kids’ grandpa.”
As to his business life, Julie said he worked hard, with integrity.
“He worked every day of his life as if it was his last,” she said.
He and Daphne would have been married 56 years this year.
“And we were together for six years before that,” said Daphne. “How many people today can say that? We had a good life. Ted was my mainstay, and I guess I was his. We had a very full and happy life together.”
At times they talked of end-of-life issues.
“I always said I would have to go first, because I couldn’t live without him. I guess that didn’t work out.”
Although the insurance business has expanded into the space where she operated her fabric and yarn store 12 years ago, she still maintains her alterations service in a smaller space in the building.
“It keeps my brain going,” she said.
She is taking comfort in memories of shared family times, in the continuing support of their family, and in the home on Muskrat Lake which Ted so lovingly maintained.
“Just last fall he got all the equipment – the lawn mower, chainsaw, and all that – serviced so it would be in good working order.”
“I certainly have my tears,” she said. “But you can’t go ahead and cry for the rest of your life. Ted wouldn’t want that. You have to go forward.”
Besides his wife, Daphne, and Chris and Julie and their spouses and families, Ted is survived by grandchildren Riley (Morgan), Alexandra (Brandon), Brendan (Keely), Macauley and Emily. He is also survived by siblings Robert (Donna) Barron, David (late Irene) Barron, Linda Wilkinson, sister-in-law Barb (Harry Sparling) and brother-in-law Murray Gutz. A graveside /celebration of life service will be held at a later date. Arrangements are entrusted to the Fraser-Morris and Heubner Funeral Home Cobden.
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