Life Stories

Life Stories: Fred Barber found time for others during distinguished career

CorrespondentJune 15, 2014 

Fred Barber


  • Frederick Ray Barber Jr.

    BORN: Oct. 17, 1937, in Crossnore.

    FAMILY: Born the son of a Methodist minister, he marries Evelyn Luther Barber in 1960 and they have two sons, Mark and Eric. His eldest son, Mark, dies in 1995. He has five grandchildren.

    EDUCATION: Earns an English degree in 1959 from High Point College (now University), where he serves as student body president.

    CAREER: He begins a career in news broadcasting straight out of college, first working for WSOC-TV in Charlotte. In 1963 he becomes news director at WGHP-TV in High Point. His career takes him all over the country, where he works in management at stations in Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta before returning to Raleigh. He finishes out his career as senior vice president for Capitol Broadcasting Co., also general manager of WRAL-TV. He retires in 1998 and helps open The Healing Place of Wake County, an addiction rehabilitation program, in 2001.

    DIES: May 25.

In the course of his journalistic career, Fred Barber covered some of the 20th century’s defining moments.

Barber accomplished this first as a reporter – he interviewed the likes of Lyndon B. Johnson (who was, reportedly, wearing his boxer shorts so as not to wrinkle his suit) before the 1960 Democratic National Convention.

He later interviewed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when King was keynote speaker at an NAACP event at Shaw University.

But when he retired in 1998 after a 40-year career in broadcast television, Barber embarked on the work his family says was most meaningful to him. In 2001 he helped found The Healing Place of Wake County, an addiction rehabilitation program, in the wake of his son’s death.

Barber died unexpectedly last month after complications from back surgery. At 76, aside from his back pain, he was healthy and vigorously involved in everything from attending his grandchildren’s sporting events to teaching classes at The Healing Place.

His wife of 53 years, Evelyn Barber, said that even while in broadcast, he tried constantly to use the power of the media to generate good – The Healing Place was another example of his need to be of service to others.

Monitoring the movement

Barber’s foray into broadcast journalism was more serendipitous than intentional, but reporting proved a good fit when a friend suggested he interview for a position at WSOC-TV in Charlotte. Raised in a family that supported desegregation, Barber was eager to cover the civil rights events taking place in his own backyard.

“Charlotte in the mid-60s was a spark plug of violence, so we were all in the middle of it, and he was on top of it,” said John Greene, a longtime friend and former broadcast colleague.

Vernon Tate tagged along as a photographer when Barber was assigned to interview King and was struck by Barber’s confidence in approaching King as he walked across Shaw’s campus.

“Fred got right to the point and asked the first question: ‘Dr. King, who is here and what is the purpose of this conference?’” Tate wrote in his recollection in 2013.

For years Barber covered sit-ins and other civil rights events, often reporting for NBC news for its national programming. He personally organized a recording of an integrated choir on an album titled, “Everybody Wants Freedom.”

Soon his career soon took a managerial trajectory and he spent more time planning programming than chasing down the story. He spent the next 40 years working at television stations everywhere from Pittsburgh to Atlanta before returning to his home state to finish out his career in Raleigh.

In that time Barber developed a reputation for pushing his stations to use their influence toward bettering the community. He started coat drives, covered fundraisers and advocated for the production of documentaries.

“A lot of other stations emulated a lot of the things he did,” Greene said. “He had a national reputation for that.”

Tragedy changes life

Still, in all that time, in all of those cities, his loved ones say it was always his family that came first. When his wife was nearing her due date with their first child, he insisted she come with him to report late night cops stories in case she went into labor. When a granddaughter was born deaf, he and his wife went through the training needed to try to talk with her.

“He particularly loved babies and could often be found asleep on a recliner or sofa with a grandbaby sleeping comfortably on his stomach with his arm wrapped around them,” said his son, Eric Barber. “The thing that stands out was he was always glad to hear from me. He was my best man when I got married.”

In 1995, his older son, Mark, died in a motorcycle accident. Mark Barber had been drinking, and his addiction to alcohol had been a struggle for some time. He left behind a wife and two children, as well as a father who had tried everything he could to help his son all along.

After he retired in 1998, Barber, was already heavily involved with organizations such as the Salvation Army and the Raleigh Rescue Mission, and he sat on the Human Services Board of Wake County. He was invited to found The Healing Place, modeled after the original in Louisville, Ky. He served on the original board, and played an active role after that. He was known to take calls from residents in need of a kindly ear at any time, day or night.

“It’s been very therapeutic for our whole family,” his wife said of their involvement.

With his sudden passing, his family is realizing just how much Barbour accomplished as a family man, journalist, and simply a citizen.

“I was extremely proud of him, but he would not talk about his work. He just didn’t like to talk about himself,” Eric Barber said. “I think he would have said his career was sort of a means to an end – to put him in a position to help other people.”

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