Robert Guyton “Bob” Barry, 80, loving husband, wonderful father, joyful “Granddaddy” and one of the media’s best “play-by-play” men ever, got credentialed to announce a game from God’s “press box” Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011, when he received the call at his house in Norman. Apparently, Big Bob had played all the rounds of golf, anchored all the TV and radio shows and consumed all the hot dogs and burgers needed here to propel his journey “home.” Now, he’ll be joined on his new heavenly broadcast crew by his former favorite “statistician,” his beautiful wife, Joan. Oh, how the awards will continue to stack up.
A memorial service will be 2 p.m. Thursday at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Norman.
Bob began his quest on Feb. 28, 1931, in Oklahoma City — the youngest son of Jack and Frances Barry. He was a happy, skinny kid with a flair for several things: playing the drums, enjoying our national pastime, music and acting and, unfortunately, getting sick. Through several bouts with illness, Bob had plenty of alone time to follow baseball and call imaginary games in his creative mind. When he was 7, he had fibbed to his father and was punished to stay in the house. While watching his brother play outside from his second story bedroom, little Bobby pushed too hard against the screen — which fell off — and he tumbled head-first out the window. God decided it was too early to “call him up,” so He made sure the youngster recovered. Back then, the rehab was simple: bed rest. For eight weeks, Bobby was forced to lie on his back and not move. It was at this time he listened to baseball games being called on the radio and decided he’d found his passion. Two blessings for sure: Surviving a terrible accident and having a future carved out in less than a decade on Earth.
Academics weren’t his strong suit, but he was a “social” star in school. And he loved his lifelong friends, attending Cleveland grade school, Taft junior high and Classen high school, a genuine “Comet,” for sure. He fancied himself a ballplayer and actually threw a nasty knuckleball well into adulthood. He loved the fraternity life, starting in junior high, and he thoroughly enjoyed school plays and drama. His father was a brilliant musician as well, and Bob appeared regularly with his Dad playing the drums while Daddy Jack “tickled the ivories” at various functions around Oklahoma City. Later, Bob attended OU, hung out with his Kappa Alpha brothers and then duty called. A stint in the Air Force followed, and then the “love of his life” officially joined in the fun. He married Joan Ellen Hester on Dec. 27, 1952, in Oklahoma City and their first child, Frank, was born at Warren AFB in Cheyenne, Wyo., in 1954. After his service, he moved to Norman to begin his remarkable broadcasting career, where he started at KNOR radio in 1955. A second son, Bobby, was born in 1956, and then the games began. While calling Norman high school events, a certain coach at OU heard the broadcasts of his son’s games and that’s why the legendary Bud Wilkinson selected Bob to be the new “Voice of the Sooners” in 1961. Hundreds of football and basketball games later, Bob moved to Oklahoma State University for a fantastic run from 1973 to 1990 before returning to the microphone at OU, thanks to President David Boren and Athletics Director Donnie Duncan, for his unmatched encore from 1991 to 2011. He called all of the games for Heisman Trophy winners Steve Owens, Barry Sanders, Jason White and Sam Bradford, plus the OU-Nebraska “Game of the Century” in 1971, the “Final Four” in 2002 and so many other NCAA basketball tournament games and football bowl games, they’re too numerous to list. After more than a half-century of “play by play,” Bob was inducted into three different Halls of Fame and had 15 Oklahoma “Sportscaster of the Year” awards under his arm. He started his television career in 1966 when the great Lee Allan Smith hired him at WKY-TV in Oklahoma City. Big Bob anchored so many specials, games and humorous “football prediction” segments with Linda Cavanaugh over many years, including trips to various Super Bowls as well as the ’72 and ’76 summer Olympics. His terrific TV career ended with his retirement in 2008.
Bob’s spiritual life then became his primary focus. He was a devoted lay reader at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Norman before heading out to breakfast with his church friends at his favorite spot, Cracker Barrel, every Sunday. Reading at church, going over Scripture and presenting with his distinct voice was a real joy and passion. He was a fine and faithful servant, a gift from God. We kneel and thank Him daily.
In his younger days, he played golf eight days a week. His sons recall one of Bob’s favorite activities was recounting that day’s round, shot-by-shot, at either Twin Lakes in Norman, Quail Creek in Oklahoma City or the Trails in Norman. If he could’ve caddied for Arnold Palmer, he might not have ever become a broadcaster. He used to go to Hot Springs every summer with his Norman buddies and play 36 holes a day. As luck would have it, his only “ace” came at QC, witnessed by no one. But due to his love of the game and his trusting soul, the folks in the pro shop believed him.
“The Legend” was preceded in death by his wife of 51 years, Joan.
He is survived by his brother, Jack Barry of Oklahoma City; his two sons, Frank and Bobby and his wife Gina; Bob’s eight grandchildren, Evan, Matt, Amanda, Ellen, Tanner, Gracie, John and Katie; and his constant companion these past several years, his cool cat “Fred.” He is also survived by so many friends, it would fill another book.
Many thanks to Bob Burke and Michael Dean for their touching tribute “Bob Barry: The Voice of Bedlam,” a book published in 2010 that gave Dad great joy and opened his life to another legion of fans. Bob loved the state of Oklahoma. He had career options to move and take his talents elsewhere, but he was grounded in the Sooner State and was a fabulous ambassador.
We knew Bob for what he was — and we’re so happy that all who came in contact with him came to know him, too. If you met him, your first impression was correct: just a gentle, kind, happy person and, boy, could he tell the funny, corny jokes. The family is so humbled by the tributes written to Bob from their print pals at The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, The Norman Transcript and other newspapers from Enid to Washington, D.C., to Miami, Austin, Boise and beyond. Several website writers have published beautiful remembrances all across America. And in an often combative and cut-throat business, the classy folks at KWTV, KOCO, KSBI, KREF Radio, FOX and other statewide TV outlets reported on Bob’s passing as if he was one of their own. Finally, words can’t express our love for our dear friends at KFOR and WWLS “The Sports Animal.” Bob’s friends, coworkers and colleagues have shown their vast talents with amazing tributes for local viewers and listeners to enjoy, which is why Bob knew — Oklahoma is blessed with an abundance of communications all-stars.
If you wish to celebrate Bob’s life further, please donate in his name to the church: P.O. Box 2088, Norman, OK 73070 or to the OU Foundation and the words “Bob Barry Endowment” on the check memo line to Univ. of Oklahoma, Gaylord School of Journalism & Mass Communication, 395 W. Lindsey St., Suite No. 3000, Norman, OK 73019.
Services are under the direction of Primrose Funeral Service.
OU Athletics Director Joe Castiglione spearheaded a first-class, year-long salute to Bob that we’ll forever be thankful for. In his eloquent words, he said, “Bob was our eyes when we couldn’t see, our voice when unable to speak and our passion when we needed it expressed.” Perfect prose to describe one of God’s great gifts. We love and honor him and can just hear the final celebration “5-4-3-2-1 … Touchdown OKLAHOMA! How do you like THEM apples?”
Moore American, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011