Editorial: Remembering a leader whose spirit lives on

Our community lost a gentle giant recently with the passing of the Rev. Annette Barnes. A leader at St. Bartholomew Catholic Church who ministered to those who have lost loved ones and those fighting for their own lives, Barnes’ selfless gifts touched so many people. She died last week at 85.

While Barnes was gentle in nature, she stood boldly and spoke strongly for the rights of all. In her life, she advocated for vulnerable children in the justice system and for people who faced discrimination, as she had as a young Black woman denied service at a restaurant in the early 1960s.

“She dealt with a lot of pain and racial struggles earlier in her life,” said Fr. Chris Wadelton, St. Bartholomew pastor. “That somewhat defined who she was, and why she was such a passionate defender of justice.”

Listing her civic activities, we barely scratch the surface to note that Barnes served on the Columbus Human Rights Commission, was a member of the city police audit and review committee, and helped amend city ordinances that extended Columbus’ protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and age.

Barnes also lived out her compassion. People who knew her well said she selflessly ministered to those in need of spiritual comfort, whether they were just starting out in life or were near the end. She frequently visited and comforted cancer patients. “I don’t have a cure for them,” she said, “but I have a heart for them.”

Mayor Jim Lienhoop knew Barnes well — they lived in the same neighborhood.

“She just had a great empathy for others, a willingness to serve, and a great desire to make the world around her a little bit better,” Lienhoop said. “And in doing so, she blessed all of us.”

Barnes was recognized as The Republic’s Woman of the Year in 2017. The Rev. Clem Davis was among numerous community members who sent letters in support of her nomination. He wrote, “Barnes is comfortable in her own skin and will fight to allow everyone to experience that same comfort in theirs.”

We should all be so fortunate as to live our lives in such a way. What a world this would be if we all could.

Not that Barnes, like the rest of us, didn’t have her trials. In her Woman of the Year profile, Barnes acknowledged that sometimes, she asked God to “watch her mouth.”

“When I go silent, you know that I am thinking about what my mother taught me,” Barnes said in 2017 of her tendency to speak up when others won’t. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Sometimes I think my mother is still on my shoulder,” she said.

The Rev. Annette Barnes made Columbus a better place to live, and she helped countless people in their times of need. Let us honor her memory, and may we continue to be enlightened by her example and inspired by her legacy of kindness, care, compassion and service to others and to her community.