Sunday, November 1, 2020

Barry Eustice: an obituary

Many recall him as the ambling figure appearing on the dusty horizon. That thin, sun-bronzed man swinging his crutches over tarmac or dirt road, edging his way closer to our village, town or city. Wildlife or livestock paused in their grazing to fix him with curious stares. Traffic pulled aside to give way and sound their horns. Children ran to greet him. We stood by the road and raised our arms with respect to clap and cheer. He is, of course, Barry Eustice, the tireless activist for people with disabilities, who, in the early evening of Friday 23rd November, drew his last breath and entered into eternal rest.

John Barrymore Eustice was born on 6th July, 1939, in Redruth, Cornwall, a place not far from England’s southernmost tip. He was the third son of Frederick and Roma Eustice, who were to have a total of seven children. Barry’s father worked for the army and his mother for the BBC in London. He was a happy and healthy boy who was sadly struck with TB of the hip at the age of 8. His condition and age meant he would spend the next 8 years on his back in hospital before undergoing a bone graft operation. This long period was devoted to reading, studying, painting, sketching and watching classic black-and-white movies on an ancient projector. So began his enduring love and appreciation of the Arts.

Barry was soon allowed to return home after his recovery. First he walked on crutches and then using a built-up shoe, which he quickly dismissed, preferring to limp. He attended a local technical college and within a year secured a place at London University to study Mathematics as one of the Cornwall’s brightest young men. Whilst at university he returned often to his beloved Cornwall for holiday work at the picturesque seaside resort of St Ives. There he befriended numerous local artists and authors.

After graduating from university, and qualifying as an accountant, Barry worked as a civil servant in London where he met his first wife, Anne, a scientific analyst. They married in Exmouth, Devon, in the mid-sixties, and moved to Bristol. The marriage ended and Barry, at the age of 31, was seconded to work for the Botswana Government. The country captured his heart in every possible way. Three years after arriving, he married his second wife, Georgina, with whom he had two children, George and Sa’adia. Bright, popular and dedicated, Barry was promoted four times eventually earning the position of Accountant General. When this position was localised, he was made Chief Internal Auditor at the Ministry of Finance.

A car accident in 1982 left Barry disabled for the second time. This was to be a major turning point in his life. Now only able to walk with the aid of crutches, his attentions were fatefully focused on the needs of people with disabilities, especially in the developing world where he always stressed there were far fewer opportunities for adequate medical attention. Inspired by his success at raising a substantial share of the proceeds from the Rotary Club’s 20 km Walk around Gaborone in 1983, Barry did a 1100 km sponsored walk around Botswana for the benefit of the disabled in 1984.

In late 1985, his unassailable thirst to do more drove him to do his historic Trans-Africa charity walk. Originally planned to start from the ancient city of Alexandria in Egypt, he grudgingly accepted the logistical impediments and began a 6100 km trek from the Ugandan border through Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. The progress of this remarkable feat, which raised thousands for people with disabilities in these countries, was threatened by encounters with wild animals, foul weather, malaria and robbers.

During the last part of this walk, he met and married his third wife, Birte, with who, in 1995, he did his final major walk, the 2000 km Trans-Kgalagadi Charity Walk. He and Birte also set up the Cheshire Foundation’s Rehabilitation Centre for Disabled Children in Mogoditshane. He considered this NGO, with its complement of residential, day-care and home-based programmes, and a multi-disciplinary team of dedicated staff, a crowning achievement.

After serving the Rehabilitation Centre for several years, Barry went on to be the Financial Advisor for the Botswana Council for the Disabled. This position was vital for ensuring that organisations involved in the disability movement, throughout Botswana, received the necessary funding to carry out their cause. Barry worked tirelessly in this regard, weathering the mounting health problems of his remaining years. Though surviving 5 heart attacks, his weakening health and the long hard years of dedicated work eventually claimed him.

His courage and sacrifice have been acknowledged internationally. On the last day of 1996, he was honoured by Queen Elizabeth II to be a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his work for the disabled. He had previously, in 1991, been awarded the Melvin Jones Fellow for Dedicated Humanitarian Services by the Lions Clubs International Foundation.

Barry Eustice was widely regarded as a singular man with a colourful character who was often the life of the party. While we mourn his departure he would beseech us to focus on continuing the good fight, to celebrate life and especially, to pay heed to the welfare of others.

He is survived by his sister, Janet, to whom he was especially close, his sister, Carol, and brother, Alan, his beloved children, George and Sa’adia, and his treasured grandchildren, Maxine, Jack, Liv and Dag.

A memorial service for Barry Eustice will be held at 7.30 am at the Anglican Cathedral, in Gaborone, Monday 3rd December.

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