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Where’s Barry?

Tribute to Barry Tozzi -
Friend and Neighbor– 1954-1998
Victim of Leukemia

by Rick McNees

27 August, 1998
at the
Evangelical Free Church of Naperville

Boy traffic was bad – I hope I’m not too late…. No, he’s not here, no, I’m not too late, I didn’t miss him, Barry’s always running a bit late, you know…..

…. that Barry, he’s really something isn’t he – he sure likes to talk. He’ll sit and talk for the longest time …….

Of course, when I think of Barry, more than hearing him talking, I hear him laughing…

Setting aside the blurr of the last chapter of his life, I remember Barry laughing, every time we were together… Boy, can’t you just can hear him laughing now….?

He just loved people, being around them, talking, laughing…. You could always count on Barry to be in a good mood, have a positive outlook on things, have a great disposition… and if ever anyone was down about something, anything, he’d lift them up. He always saw the bright side, he always saw the glass half full.. That’s why Barry was always fun to be around. He was always up – always positive, his glass wasn’t just half full – it was abundantly full…. He saw life that way…

He loved working in his garden … his garden was always a model for what our garden COULD look like, or SHOULD look like…. I recall seeing him standing out there in his garden in the early evening – actually he isn’t standing, he’s moving around, working… Barry was not one to just stand around – he was always moving, doing something. But you know what? Our garden would never look like Barry’s! He just had some sort of magic….

Kind of like doing magic just working with his hands…. He also loved woodworking. Why, when he built our house, he built the huge oak handrails for our family room himself – he could’ve bought ‘em, or had ‘em done, but he wanted to do them himself. And he hand built the oak landing too. He loved to work with wood. He would talk about a piece of wood almost like it was a person, with a personality… he could transform and bring alive a chunk of oak with his words as well as with his hands…..

But this was just another challenge that he took on – he loved not only the challenge of creating something working with his hands… he loved an intellectual challenge too. He loved problem solving -–which was what building a house was all about… Its really just putting together a huge complex puzzle – and the pieces don’t always naturally fit together so you have to think it through, and sometimes improvise. Barry loved those challenges.

I know I caused him fits when he built our house… I was constantly throwing him curve-balls – I didn’t want a house like any other – I wanted it to be different – distinguishable from others - so I demanded a lot of unconventional things… Linda and I wanted little nooks in every room – built into the walls – a built in shelf here, and there. Well the problem was that we also wanted lots and lots of windows – so before you knew it there were no walls in our house! Oh, there were walls, but each one had a window in it – or one of these crazy nooks. So there were no plain walls! You know, the type of walls that hold up the second floor! Or the type of walls that have on the inside all that ‘stuff’ that goes inside of walls – like plumbing, or heating and air conditioning vents. Our house was a nightmare to design and build – Barry had to build double walls between the kitchen and dining room because we put in a built in plate shelf – then a double-double wall between the formal room and my office because we built in nick-nack shelves into the wall in the living room… and double walls in the breakfast nook, and the living room, and the dining room – to house the heating and ventilating lines – because we stuffed all those exterior walls full of windows… those that didn’t have nooks!

And because we had so many of those little nooks or built in shelves that took away load bearing walls - he had to add steel everywhere – in the wall at the bottom of the stairs, and in the kitchen. I know any other homebuilder would’ve put his foot down or just said no, but no, Barry never got exasperated with us, or complained, or balked – he’d go home and figure it out! And we got our nooks, and our windows – and the second floor stands. We love those nooks, and all the views of the pastures and trees outside our windows. I have fond thoughts of Barry every time I look at some of those windows, or our nooks. I’m sure Barry had a few thoughts about them too! But we never heard a word that wasn’t positive.

Yet, while he tolerated our many little idiosyncrasies, and extravagances which were functional or artistic – he talked me out of many others that he thought weren’t practical – or weren’t necessary. I asked him to over-engineer many things in the house. Even though it was more money, I asked him to do a lot of things that he felt were extravagant – and he rationalized with me they weren’t necessary. He was just a practical guy.

Being a computer guy in the software business, one of the amazing things about Barry, to me, was how much Barry really got in to his computer….. Even though he was a contractor, a carpenter, a woodworker, he was in no way a low tech guy. He was really into computers. He was on the internet – the www (world-wide-web) back in the early days – before it was really popular he had a web access account. He was cool! And of course he also worked with his CAD programs – computer aided design stuff – which is really heavy duty computer stuff. That’s the kind of stuff that is really what computers are all about – real computing jobs, and Barry really got into it. I remember many nights coming home late and looking across seeing his office lights still on – Barry in there working on the computer.... or early in the morning… I recall the time he lost some files – his hard drive crashed. That’s the Armageddon for any computer user. I’m sure it was devastating – he must’ve had an immense amount of work lost in that machine. But he took it in stride – he wasn’t bitter, didn’t complain, too much. He was always able to look beyond adversity.

Then there was the period of his life when he got on his fitness kick – and he really worked at it – he was pretty serious about it. He worked really hard on the running machine. You know, hard to believe, but there was actually a time when he and I could actually out-run Deb (a marathoner now) and Linda (a regular distance runner)!

Not surprising – this was a different period of our lives than when we used to sneak out with Paul, Jeff and Judd and go for pie after building committee meetings …

I also remember Barry loving to go to movies – I don’t know who loved movies more, Barry or Linda!

And he loved the miserable Bears - even to the point of still betting on them with Sally when her beloved Packers (49’ers) gained preeminence over them in the nineties. There were also some other Packer fans around that Barry tolerated (Jud). He and Sally had a special friendship that extended to and from the McNees’s as well.

But of many of the things I remember of Barry, I think one of the proudest and most rewarding times for him, and for Deb too, was watching Brad play cornerback on the top ranked football team at NCHS. Barry and Deb would get there early just to make sure they, and many of the rest of us got good seats. Now that may not seem like a big deal …. Except that it seems that, that final year of Brad’s, when Central had such an exciting team… I seem to remember it raining almost every game – and those last few games it rained, and snowed, and sleeted – one of those things you can only find in Chicago. Such miserable weather isn’t even found in, say, Minnesota, where Barry and Deb lived for a time early in their marriage. It was miserable sitting in the rain, in the cold, during those games. But they were there early, and of course stayed till the end. And never complained. They wouldn’t have missed it for the world. They were rewarded to hear Brad Tozzi’s name announced over the loudspeaker – which happened frequently. We were all rewarded by some heart throbbing football and a win – usually coming from behind, I seem to recall. And of course we were all rewarded by just being around Barry, …..talking and laughing, even in the damp miserable cold, Barry’s disposition was warm.

He was immensely proud of Brad. He was proud of Katie too, and Sarah. And of course he was deeply proud of his loving wife Debbie. He loved his family immeasurably. You never ever heard anything that would leave you to doubt that. If Brad manifested Barry’s masculinity, Katie and Sarah were the twinkle and gleam in his eyes, and Debbie was his heart. Barry was one of those guys who you were comfortable being around, because he was always so positive, and safe. He believed in all the right things.

He loved this church. It was such a rewarding and fulfilling experience for Barry to combine his skills, talents, and love of building, with his love for the Lord and the church. It was a great honor for him to contribute in this way. And we were blessed to have him, and Paul, to be such wonderful stewards of our resources in building on to this house of worship.

Barry loved the outdoors. He loved trees as much as I did. We would walk our adjoining properties for hours stopping at each tree – bestowing its virtues, critiquing the way it was growing… almost like judges at a gymnastics or diving competition holding up numbers on a ten point scale… This may not sound like a big deal – except when you realize over the years I’ve planted more than 500 trees on our property alone! And Barry would always indulge me and spend time and walk with me on one of our tree judging walks.

Barry always had time for me. He always had time for everybody. He loved being around people, he loved talking, laughing with them. He was very unselfish with his time in that way…

Which explains no doubt why he seemed to always be running a little bit behind schedule. You knew he couldn’t pull himself away from whomever it was he was with – talking, laughing, carrying on…. Helping. He was always there to lend a hand, or a tool. He’d come over for a brief minute about something and end up helping me with whatever project I was working. And if I wasn’t in the middle of a project when he came over, I'd start one, right then and there because he was so handy, I knew we could tackle some task with him there that I couldn’t do alone. And he was always happy to help, talking and laughing as we worked. No wonder he was running a little bit late….

Where’s Barry?

I know where Barry is. You know where Barry is. We all know where Barry is… he’s looking down on us now…. And he’s talking, …. And he’s laughing…. – oh cant you hear him? I can hear him laughing now…

… and he’s at peace.


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