Barry Schuyler passed away on April 28, but the energy, passion, and enthusiasm he gave to all who had the good fortune to know him ensures he will not be forgotten. It mattered not whether you knew him only in passing for a short time, had a long-term lasting friendship, or, as I did, had a lifetime with him as one of his four children; Barry made an impression. He was, according to our friend Jim Poett, “a passionate and indomitable advocate for the stuff of life.” At times mercurial, but always thoughtful and intelligent, he was the quintessential lifelong combination of teacher and student.
Barry first came to Santa Barbara County in the 1930s as a student at Midland School and, except for a few short stints elsewhere, never really left the area. For much of the last 55 years, he loved living in the “funny, simple, single wall” house he built for his family with his own hands overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
His education at a high school that promoted both community cooperation and individual responsibility coupled with Midland’s philosophy of distinguishing “needs from wants” (the school only grudgingly left the age of kerosene to switch to electricity in the late 1940s) left an indelible impression on Barry. It helped shape his outlook on life, aptly summarized in one of his favorite quotes by J.R.R. Tolkien’s wizard Gandalf, who said: “It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”
Barry was a wizard in his own right. He transformed the lives and thinking of thousands of students during his tenure as a teacher at Midland School, Polytechnic School, Laguna Blanca School, and the Environmental Studies Department at UC Santa Barbara. The number of people in recent weeks who have said “If it weren’t for Barry, I wouldn’t be where I am today” is truly astonishing. Not one to coddle students, he pushed, prodded, and challenged people to think for themselves. He taught people to evaluate the impacts of their choices and decisions not only on their own lives and well-being but also on fellow human beings.
He welcomed students and colleagues into his office, and allowed people to feel heard rather than judged (although my siblings and I remember experiencing some trepidation when he asked us to discuss with him some of our antics!). He had a knack for seeing the potential in both situations and people, and the ability to focus on the essence of an issue, clearly seeing what the next steps should be. He would then give generously of his time, knowledge, and resources to make sure things happened.
Although an accomplished speaker and comfortable in the halls of academia, Barry never lost sight of the power of wild places and the need to experience their lessons. Whether it was in the untamed peaks of the Sierra Nevada or on the windswept coastlines of the Channel Islands, Barry returned to the core of his inner strength, the natural world, as often as he could. He was in Tuolumne Meadows, above Yosemite Valley, just a few months ago, and although he won’t return this fall as he had planned, the many colleagues he took to the mountains or islands for their first visit will carry his spirit as they continue their travels in the places he loved.
Though quiet and capable in his own endeavors, Barry was not alone in his pursuit of excellence. Barry and Jean, his wife of nearly 62 years, were a duo to be reckoned with. They led when necessary, but often were the guiding force from behind the scenes. Their support of numerous and varied local organizations, including environmental and conservation groups, performing arts venues, health agencies, and educational institutions are reminders of a life well lived. The number of individuals he and Jean quietly helped will never be known.
Never one to aspire to lofty accolades for his own accomplishments, Barry sought to provide the foundations of success for the people, the organizations, and the causes he believed in. Through the thousands of interactions he had with students, friends, and colleagues, he instilled a base of knowledge and experience that has rippled outward to unexpected places. No one is really surprised to hear, “Oh, Barry Schuyler suggested we look into this” or “Barry helped me get started in the right direction and gave me the support and encouragement to follow my dreams.”
More than anything, Barry’s passing means that the chance to sit down and spend quality time with a “gentleman and scholar” is no more. It is an opportunity that will be greatly missed.
A celebration of Barry’s life (as he requested, no formal service or long eulogies) will take place from 1-4 p.m. on Saturday, June 4, at UCSB, followed by a gathering at Jean and Barry’s house. Please see barryschuyler.info for details.