Celebrating Barry

When those of us on the New Mobility staff began to make peace with our sense of loss, it dawned on us just how much there is to celebrate about the life of the man who gave so much to the magazine, to the disability community, and to his family and friends. In truth, our feelings of loss began well before Barry Corbet left us, for we learned of his terminal illness several months ago. True to his character, however, he did not allow us to think of his death as anything other than a natural part of his life.

Yet when news of his passing came, we did grieve. And we wondered: How could we make a tribute issue unique? What could we do to make it reflect his personality, accomplishments, legacy? We knew we wanted it to be classy, cohesive, certainly not maudlin. Of course there would have to be stories, anecdotes, memories–some poignant, some wise, some humorous. And there would have to be more.

Barry Corbet was a man who was relatively unknown to the general public, but in a very real way, Barry’s life was heroic. Not only was he a world-class skier and mountaineer–one of the first Americans to climb Mount Everest–he was also one of the first to bring into public consciousness a different kind of adventure that is intimately familiar to New Mobility readers. He called it the conquest of the ordinary: “We find adventure in reaching the unreachable object, in scratching the unscratchable itch, in making the impossible transfer. We find it every time our adaptive equipment breaks down or an attendant flakes out. We find it in confronting patronization and discrimination, in righting wrongs, taking stands and rousing the courage to be who we are.”

In establishing the philosophy and managing the content of New Mobility for a decade, he took our ordinary stories and made them extraordinary. He taught us that our lifestyle–the choices we make, the way we live and the way we are seen by the public–is critical to our fulfillment as individuals and as a community. “There’s power in lifestyle,” he wrote. “It’s the proof that we do have real lives, that our present economic and social disempowerment is neither terminal nor inevitable. And it’s a good antidote to people who want to limit our options because they think our quality of life is as low as you can possibly get.”

The quality of Barry’s life can be celebrated in his words and in the words of those who knew and loved him. Many readers and freelancers who felt close to Barry contributed to this issue spontaneously. Look for their tributes in our expanded Letters section in the print edition. In this section our opening remembrance is written by Barry’s oldest son, Jon, who admirably upholds the Corbet literary tradition in reflecting on his father’s life. Our thanks go out to Jon’s siblings, Jennifer and Mike, whose collective memories form much of what Jon has written, and to others of Barry’s family, and his loved ones, for sharing stories and photos so generously.

Sam Maddox, the founder of New Mobility and the man who rightly chose Barry to infuse heart and soul into the magazine, remembers the early days and the last days; Lorenzo Milam, whose unique voice has been a mainstay of the magazine for as long as anyone can remember, gives us a typically engaging view of his working relationship and friendship with Barry; Harriet McBryde Johnson, attorney, writer extraordinaire and irrepressible spirit, contributes a moving remembrance drawn from her relatively recent close personal relationship with Barry. (Her self-penned bio reads: “Barry Corbet became her favorite editor when she began writing for NM in 1998. She became his last valentine on Feb. 14, 2003.”)

Finally, Jean Dobbs–who worked with Barry from the infancy of the magazine until his retirement at the end of 2000, and whose leadership and gentle guidance continues to keep Barry’s vision of “life on wheels” alive–leaves us with: “One Last Yellow Dog Story.”

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