According to Beth Barker, at 3 years old her son Eli understands a bit more that his father is not coming home.
“I explained to him that Daddy went to fight a fire and had an accident, and he went to live in heaven with Jesus because Jesus needed an angel,” said Beth.
Her husband, Tony Barker, was a volunteer firefighter with the Mountain View Fire Department. He died Thursday afternoon from exposure to high voltage electricity after fallen power lines were downed and clipped a small metal building causing a car fire at Dale’s Tire & Auto on Traphill Road in Hays.
“It has been the most difficult process … to explain to a child a tragedy at a time when I can’t make sense of it. However, I wanted to be as up front as possible with Eli. I didn’t want him to blame me one day for finding out the truth when he got older,” said Beth in a voice that often paused while trying to explain her feelings.
“Yes, I want to continue with you. I’m totally comfortable speaking with you because it’s helpful,” said Beth during the interview.
“My husband died a hero. I know it. The community knows it, and even Eli understands it,” she said.
The afternoon storm ripped through North Carolina and is responsible for four deaths statewide.
Barker, 36, was standing near the metal building and was electrocuted.
Barker is the second Wilkes County firefighter to die on duty after Roy Cashion, a North Wilkesboro Fire Department member and charter member of the Wilkes Rescue Squad, died when a propane gas tank exploded during a restaurant fire across from Carolina Mirror on Oct. 21, 1958.
Mountain View Fire Chief Bill Johnson said Barker was a member of the department for a year and five months and was a dedicated firefighter.
“He’s right,” said Beth. “Tony was proud of being a Mountain View Fire Department, he was a great father, had a tremendous sense of humor, and had a lifelong passion for helping others.
“I miss him so much,” she said.
Tony Barker was born in Maryland, but he attended schools in Wilkesboro and went to Wilkes Central High School after his parents, Jerry and Judith Barker, moved here.
“We met seven years ago,” said Beth. “At age 23, I started my work at First Community Bank. I had a friend who I went to high school with, and she and I started hanging out.”
Beth said that at that time, Tony was working at A&H Windows in Wilkesboro.
“His big passion back then was paintball. I met him coming out of the woods where they played paintball. I saw this big guy coming out of the woods with lots more dirt on him compared to paint. It just kind of went from there,” said Beth with a laugh.
“Did you know that we didn’t even speak when we first saw each other? We were brought together on a double date and that was the first time I got to know him,” reminisced Beth.
A year later the couple married in February of 2007.
“Oh yeah, I knew I wanted to marry him,” she said.
Eli was born three years later.
“Ever since Eli came into his life, Tony would light up. Tony was always about the family. I just think the way Tony presented his family values is what helped shape him,” said Beth.
“For sure, like any other husband out there for a wife, my husband knew how to drive me nuts,” Beth said with a chuckle.
According to Beth, Tony always wanted to be a firefighter. He tried to join another fire department earlier, but the department in another town didn’t accept him.
“He didn’t give up. If he decided he wanted to do something he would,” said Beth.
“In between, he would do things around the house, loved a good action movie, loved spending time with Eli, could eat about anything, but mostly was great at just helping out,” she said.
Beth said that Tony would routinely exercise his sense of humor on her sister, Rachel Gamble.
“She was the beneficiary of all the family humor. She always set herself up to be the joke for Tony,” said Beth.
At the request of Beth, she said that Tony would want everyone to know one critical fact on his life. Tony was an avid lawn mower racer.
On the Saturday before he died, Tony came in first place in Lenoir, N.C .at the Brush Mountain Independent Mowersports of North Carolina.
“What can I say? He didn’t like mowing, but loved to race those things,” said Beth.
Now, Beth and Eli Barker will take life one day at a time.
“I am truly overwhelmed by the amount of people that came out to pay their respects for Tony. You realize how many good people are out there from the phone calls and messages and visits. It’s comforting. Of course, some people don’t know what to say,” she said.
Beth said she has a good support system.
“I have enough of a support system. I also have to be a mom and be strong for Eli. Even after everything, Eli is only 3 and can’t take care of himself,” continued Beth.
“I can tell you that I had someone sit down beside me at the funeral home. The firefighter indicated that he and the department would be there if anything is needed to take care of me,” said Beth.
According to the mother, little Eli observed the conversation, interrupted and said, ”Mommy, taking care of you is now my job.”
Reach Anthony Gonzalez at 336-835-1513 or email at email@example.com.