Known for his smile, his handshake and not being political despite years in politics, former Havre de Grace city councilman and mayor and Harford County councilman Phil Barker died Wednesday at age 84.
Mayor William T. Martin shared news of Mr. Barker’s death on the city’s Facebook page: “On behalf of the Citizens of Havre de Grace, I share the sad news of the passing of former Mayor Philip J. Barker. Serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Phil was always service-oriented and loyal to his community... .
"In both his private and public life, Phil was an extraordinary leader and mentor and will be greatly missed by family, friends, and the citizens of Havre de Grace. In his honor, I have ordered City flags lowered to half-staff.”
John Correri, who has been involved in Havre de Grace politics and served as mayor and councilman several times, said he had lunch with Mr. Barker a couple months ago, with other members of the “old guard” that included Jim Cameron, Chad Tate and Mitch Shank.
“Phil was part of the gang,” Correri, who’s known Barker most of his time in Havre de Grace, said.
“Aside from politics, Phil was pretty much a major impact in a lot of areas of Havre de Grace, whether it was his church or community,” he said.
Correri said Mr. Barker was a very fair person who tried to be inclusive.
“We had our differences, but we were always able to work around those differences for what was best for Havre de Grace,” Correri, noting Mr. Barker always had a smile and a handshake for everyone, said. “He was a good man and listened and I think he did a good job for the citizens.”
He remembers working closely with Mr. Barker on seeing through construction of the new police department for the city “to get the station we needed for our police officers,” Correri said.
When interviewing him in December 2016 for the “HdG Stories” series, Ellie Mencer called Mr. Barker her favorite mayor of Havre de Grace, “Mayor Phil.”
Mencer met Mr. Barker when she moved to Havre de Grace, right around the time he was elected mayor, and worked with him on several occasions.
“Phil was so less politics and more of whatever anyone could offer, it was worthy of listening to and encouraging,” Mencer said. “He didn’t have to own a project, he would help you find resources for it. He was really special.”
Mr. Barker and his late wife, Charlie, were very community-minded, she said.
“He and Charlie did everything, they were involved in pretty much everything,” Mencer said.
Among the organizations Mr. Barker was involved in were Havre de Grace Chamber of Commerce, Harford Habitat for Humanity, Recreation Committee, Harford Cable Network, Maritime Museum, BPOE 1564 Elks Lodge, Havre de Grace Little League, Havre de Grace Football League, Northeastern Technology Council, United Way Board, The Salvation Army Board, APG Economic Advisory Board, Coalition on Disabilities and Citizens Care Center and Rehabilitation Center Board.
Mencer said Mr. Barker was also a great storyteller who was “very warm and open. He was just a very special human being, hard to duplicate.”
“There was no pretense. He wanted to be who he was and you be who you were. He wanted things to be good, not matter who was doing in,” Mencer said.
In the interview with Mencer, Mr. Barker discusses his childhood in Salisbury, his first job at a movie theater, his time in the Army and taking advantage of the G.I Bill.
He served three years in the Army and upon his return from Japan enrolled in Salisbury State Teachers College. He later transferred to the University of Maryland, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1961 in business and public administration.
He was married to his first wife, Juanita Gordy, while he was in college. He moved to Havre de Grace in 1961, where he met and married Charlotte “Charlie” May, to whom he was married for 35 years before she died in 2013.
After graduating from college, Mr. Barker joined the Chemicals Division of the J.M. Huber Corporation in Havre de Grace in product development and retired in 1991, after more than 30 years as a technology laboratory and facility manager.
Mr. Barker was elected to the Havre de Grace City Council in 1979, 1983, 1986 and 1988. He served on the Harford County Council from 1990 to 1994 then was elected as mayor of Havre de Grace in 1997 and again in 1999.
As mayor, he started a prayer before each council meeting which is still observed today. He also put the Pledge of Allegiance back into the city council meetings and had the first flag of Havre de Grace designed and approved by the city council.
A viewing will be held on July 25 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Zellman Funeral Home in Havre de Grace followed by a funeral July 26 at noon at Havre de Grace United Methodist Church. There will be a come and go reception at the Havre de Grace Elks Club after the funeral service on July 26.
Anyone attending either of the services is asked to honor Mr. Barker by wearing their favorite Disney or Mickey Mouse memorabilia. “It will make him smile,” his family wrote in his obituary.
Burial will be in Harford Memorial Gardens in Aldino.
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Donations may be made to the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum, 100 Lafayette St., Havre de Grace, MD 21078.