Gone is a Valley legend

Community reflects on life of Barney McCaffrey

Staff Reporter

Community reflects on life of Barney McCaffrey

Staff Reporter

WILNO – The wife of the late Barney McCaffrey wants the community to remember her husband as a man who had a passion for life.

“He went for life. He always tried to look on the positive side of things,” Patricia McCaffrey said.

The McCaffrey’s twin sons, Daniel and Gabriel, said it was that lust for life that brought people together.

“One thing that we really appreciated about our father, is he was very good at bringing different people together from economic, social backgrounds, he was really amazing at that,” Gabriel said. “It didn’t matter who you were…somehow he could break down barriers and we are really impressed with that.”

The local singer, artist and philanthropist was a man of good health. It was a shock to the family when he started experiencing signs of a stroke – tingling fingers, blurred vision, and slurred speech – on New Year’s Day. He was rushed by ambulance to the Pembroke Regional Hospital. Sometime during the evening of January 1, he had suffered yet another severe stroke, and went into a coma.

“He always said if it was his choice, he would pass away on his property,” Daniel said.
“So when he was in Pembroke in his coma, we told him we would get him as close as we can. So that’s what we did.”

Doctors agreed to send Barney back to St. Francis Memorial Hospital in Barry’s Bay so that he could be closer to family and friends.

Sadly, Barney passed away there at 12:05 a.m. on January 5. His wife Patricia was by his side. He was 77-years-old.

Sister Rosenda Brady was with the McCaffrey family during the difficult time.

“He will finally meet all his Celtic friends that he talked so much about to me,” she said.

“God gave him many gifts, and Barney used them all quite actively for the good of all the people he loved and served.”


Barney was born in New York City on July 15, 1934 to parents Raymond (an Irish man) and Wanda (who was Polish.)

It was his mother who got him involved in music, and she saved her money so that Barney and his sister Jessica could take lessons. When he was 12 years old, he made his first 10 dollars playing an accordion at a wedding. When he was 14, he had his own swing band and by the time he was 16, Barney was involved in a country band.

According to his twins, Barney even beat out Elvis Presley’s cousin in a talent contest, winning first prize.

He originally planned on becoming a cartoonist, and enrolled in a visual arts high school. It was there he learned lettering and calligraphy. He made his way to University in New York, where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts.

Around 1955, and upon graduation, he was drafted into the U.S. Navy. He discovered his love of Canada when stationed in Newfoundland.

Four years later, he decided to go backpacking in Europe for around 15 months. He then made his way back to New York.

Sometime in 1962, he met Patricia. As she recalled, it was not love at first sight.

“He was an interesting character when I met him, you couldn’t ignore him,” she said.
Their friendship blossomed into love, and they married on October 17, 1964.
“He married well when he married Pat who was most supportive of him as he tried to live out his own ideals,” Sister Rosenda said.

Patricia and Barney came to the Combermere area on their honeymoon, where they spent some time at the Madonna House. The devout Catholics established connections to the area through the Catholic Workers Movement, which they were involved in during their time in New York.

When they returned to the big city, the couple set their sights on helping the poor. They toured the states, raising money to help them get to Peru in a program that would, as Patricia said, “help the poor help themselves.”

“I think Barney…had an idea of seeing what it would be like to live really simply,” Patricia said.

Ish Theilheimer has been a long-time friend of Barney’s.

“It’s important to understand the importance Barney placed on the wisdom and decency of poor people,” Theilheimer said. “He embraced poverty and hard work in a spirit of fun and camaraderie.”

It was Peru where the McCaffrey’s welcomed their first son to the world – Blaise McCaffrey.

This story continues in the January 12 issue of The Valley Gazette.
Check out our image gallery for more photos of Barney