Marion C. Barry was recently praised as a young man who was working to turn his life around and who loved his people and the communities they lived in.
Calvin Barry, a cousin of the late Christopher Barry, spoke at his funeral on Aug. 22 along with other notable D.C. residents, including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and former Ward 8 advisory neighborhood commissioner Anthony Lorenzo Green among others. (Photo by Rob Roberts)
Hundreds of people ranging from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), presumptive Ward 7 D.C. Council member Vincent Gray (D), and other dignitaries and residents came to the funeral service of Barry, the son of the late Ward 8 council member and four-term District mayor Marion S. Barry, on Aug. 22 at the Temple of Praise church in Ward 8. Barry, who died of an apparent drug overdose on Aug. 14, was honored by Bowser in a somber, yet straightforward address.
“I am here to offer condolences of a grateful city,” the mayor said. “Christopher was a son of our city and I am a daughter of our city. We have just lost a son of our city.”
Among the notables attending the funeral were D.C. Council members Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), plus presumptive at-large D.C. Council member Robert White (D), former D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown, and former council members Vincent Orange, Frank Smith, and Sandy Allen.
Barry was 36 at the time of his death. He was the owner of a small business, Efficiency Contractors, which hired many Ward 8 residents, some of whom were returning citizens, to work on projects such as painting schools and doing construction work on buildings. However, Barry had his troubles with the law that sometimes dealt with drug use and possession.
Bowser said she understood that Barry’s life wasn’t easy. “This is a city of accomplished people but Washington, D.C. can be a tough place, too,” she said. “I watched Chris Barry grow up. He was the ‘first son’ of the city. He had his struggles in life but he was a humble, vulnerable, flesh, and blood human being. However, I choose to remember his brightest days.”
Attorney-lobbyist David Wilmot and former D.C. Corporation Counsel Fred Cooke talked about the professional and personal relationship that they had with Barry. One of his closest friends, Carl Thomas, told funny and moving stories of Barry’s interaction with friends and residents of Ward 8.
Yet, it was Anthony Lorenzo Green, the former chairman of the 8B advisory neighborhood commission in Ward 8, who moved the mourners to an emotional response. “It is hard to understand the people who criticized Chris Barry over the years,” Green said, fighting back tears. “It is hard to understand our people.”
Green talked about meeting Barry in 2009. He said Barry would ride his bike throughout the city and they would talk about the economic injustice that is systematically imposed on neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. “Christopher was a man that was truly about the people of this city,” he said. “You measure a man by what he does for others and not for themselves.”
The Rev. Willie F. Wilson from Union Temple Baptist Church in D.C. gave the eulogy at Christopher Barry’s funeral. (Photo by Rob Roberts)
Barry’s maternal grandmother, Polly Lee Harris, and stepmother Cora Masters Barry, were present at the funeral but didn’t speak. Cousins and close friends spoke passionately about Barry, though.
The Rev. Willie Wilson, senior pastor at Union Temple Baptist Church, eulogized Barry. Wilson said Barry was a seed that needed to grow. “Every seed has unlimited potential but the seed has to go through transformation,” Wilson said, “just as a caterpillar is a worm that matures into a butterfly.”
Wilson said that in order for a man to grow, he needs teachers and guides and pointed out that Barry had those in his life. “Just as the Apostle Paul planted during his lifetime, Marion planted, Effi planted, and Cora planted for Christopher,” he said. “All of these people planted in Chris’s life.”
Nonetheless, Wilson said, Barry was living in a destructive environment. “It was the environment that killed Chris,” the pastor said. “People will mess you up. There were so many expectations of what he should, would, could, and might do.”
Barry lived in the public arena, Wilson said, and that wasn’t always the best thing for him. “Marion was so busy helping everybody else,” Wilson said. “Marion wasn’t there for Christopher. He created the summer youth job program but forgot the youth named Christopher at his home.”
Nevertheless, Wilson said Barry never forgot who he was and where he came from.
“Chris was a conscious man,” he said. “Christopher was a Black man and proud of it.”