Cover photo for James Barbour's Obituary
James Barbour Profile Photo
1933 James 2024

James Barbour

March 3, 1933 — February 27, 2024

James passed away gently on Tuesday, February 27, 2024, with his wife at his side. He was a much loved husband, father, friend, mentor, and teacher. He was preceded in death by his first wife Barbara B. Barbour and son, Matthew D. Barbour. He is survived by his wife of 24 years, Margaret Davidson, sons William W. Barbour (wife Marcella Bragio) of North Carolina and Christopher J. (wife Yorleny) of Albuquerque and Matthew's widow, Amy, of Dallas, TX, stepdaughter Megan Oliver of Albuquerque, grandchildren James and Amanda of California, Kevin and Gisella of North Carolina, and a late-in-life "adopted" son, Eric Naugle of Albuquerque, and adopted grandchildren Dylan, Trevor and Madeline Medley of California, and Gus and Genevieve Blauwet of Denver, CO.

Jim's life was much like the books he loved to read and teach-with many chapters, unexpected twists, and reinventions but a satisfying conclusion. Chapter 1 begins as his parents, William L. Barbour and Serena (Winess) Barbour, travel from their home in Corpus Christie, TX, to the Winess family farm where their only child, James, was born in a snowstorm in Grand Forks, ND, on March 3, 1933. Jim's early life was spent in Texas with summer visits to the farm. After his father lost his job, the family moved to Mexico City, where his mother continued work as a secretary to the military attache at the Embassy. Later, after his parents' divorce, his mother sent the young teenage Jim to St. John's, a Lutheran boarding school in Winfield, KS, where he finished high school and junior college. He went on to Concordia Seminary in St. Louis where he completed his training in the ministry.

Chapter 2, Reinvention (1959-1969), while at the seminary, Jim met his first wife, Barbara, discovered that the ministry did not fit him, and began his search for a better path. He and Barb married after graduation in 1959. She thought she was marrying a Lutheran minister but ended up with an English professor. During the long transition period for the young couple, Jim received an MA in English at Washington University in St. Louis while Barb worked as a nurse and they began their family. Matthew was born in 1960, soon followed by William. They moved to Milwaukee, WI, where Jim taught at Concordia College and worked part-time filling pulpits for ministers on leave. He loved teaching and his active, inquisitive intellect led him to UCLA's doctoral program in American Renaissance literature. With a third son, Christopher, on the way and with the generous help of his Aunt Frieda, the young family moved to California. At UCLA Jim made life-long friends with other students-including Houston Baker and Evan Antone-and found a mentor, Leon Howard, who over time became his substitute father.

Chapter 3 (1970-1990) moves Jim and family to Albuquerque when he accepts a position as Assistant Professor of American literature at the University of New Mexico. Jim's career and family life blossomed. He loved teaching undergraduates and mentoring graduate students, while teaching the books that spoke to him-books by Melville, Twain, Faulkner and Fitzgerald. He created a class combining his two passions, baseball and literature. He loved raising his young sons, coaching their little league teams, and traveling with his family. As good as life was it was not without its share of hardship during this period. Barb began her 14-year battle with breast cancer. Jim also became caretaker for the "old folks" when his mother and two older aunts (Frieda Wilson and Helen Enge) moved to Albuquerque, followed by Leon Howard and his wife who retired to be near him. All this extended family brought both joy and sorrow into Jim's life, responsibilities which he shouldered with much grace and determination.

Chapter 4 (1990-1995) was a short, intense period of Jim's life with a tsunami of life changes. He retired abruptly from UNM in 1990 to care for his ailing wife and attend to the responsibilities of the "old folks." Increasingly, his role became sole caretaker for family that was gradually dying, beginning with Leon Howard, then his mother (1992), and ending in 1995 with the death of his wife, Barb, and his two aunts, Frieda and Helen, in less than a year. It was always in Jim's nature to accept the relentless responsibilities of caretaking without question and to the best of his ability.

Chapter 5, Reinvention and Conclusion (1995-2024), with the death of so many close family members so close together, Jim, still young at 62, chose to create a new life in spite of his grief. He traveled with his sons and family friends, and reconnected with Margaret (Maggie) Davidson, now a single mother with a teenage daughter Megan Oliver. They married in 1999 and, together, built a new family. Jim became Megan's second dad, adding new friends and new "adoptees" to his extended family circle. There was time for more travel -countless trips to Paris and Europe, cruises to Antarctica, Europe, and often to Alaska, where he felt the spirituality of the scenery was evidence of God's presence in the world. Always a writer, Jim with Maggie completed a 200-page Barbour family history, co-edited with Ron Briley James T. Farrell's baseball novel, "Dreaming Baseball," co-edited with Gary Scharnhorst A. J. Liebling's WWII essays, "Liebling's War." He loved life, felt that he had been extremely lucky, and handled the increasing frailty of old age with grace and gratitude. He loved his quiet life at home and going out with friends for dinner and red wine as often as possible at Savoy, which he considered his "Cheers" because everyone there knew Jim's name-the owners and staff treated him like family. Just a few days shy of his 91st birthday, he slipped away quietly in the early morning hours on February 27th. Life ended just the way he wanted, at home in his own bed with Maggie at his side.

Jim was a humble man (always preferring the title of teacher to "Emeritus Professor") with a sharp intellect and an irreverent sense of humor (fart jokes and shaggy dog stories), an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball history and player stats, a lover of good food and fine art (especially Van Gogh and the Impressionists) with an eclectic taste in music (from his boyhood roots in country western music to Louis Armstrong jazz to the symphony to musical show tunes and older church hymns). He was always grateful for the life he had and the people-family, friends, colleagues, and students-he shared life with along the way.

Memorial services will be held Thursday, March 14th, 2024, 1:00-2:00 p.m. at FRENCH- Lomas followed by a reception at Savoy Bar & Grill from 4:00-6:00 p.m. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Good Shepherd Center (P.O. Box 749, Albuquerque, NM 87103), the Barrett Foundation, Inc. (10300 Constitution Ave. NE, Albuquerque, NM 87112) or the charity of your choice.

To send flowers to the family in memory of James Barbour, please visit our flower store.

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Thursday, March 14, 2024

1:00 - 2:00 pm (Mountain time)


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