by Bill Newland and Sue Lichtenfels

On Friday, January 26, 2007, Pennsylvania Council of the Blind President Henry Eugene Barton passed away at his Pittsburgh home after battling pancreatic cancer.

"Gene was a beacon of light for so many blind and vision-impaired citizens of Pennsylvania," remembers his wife, Darlene Barton.

Without a doubt ACB and PCB were most fortunate to have Gene Barton as a member for nearly 40 years. Over those years he was an active member of the PCB chapters in Altoona, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh. After the death of Gene's first wife Jolane in 2002, Gene became president of Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle Council of the Blind. He took on the responsibility of chairing the host committee for the ACB convention to be held in Pittsburgh in 2003. One of his duties was coordinating the volunteer training for the convention, and Gene was rewarded for his hard work. It was during that first training session that he met Darlene Mitchell, who he would marry that September. Gene not only got a wife, but ACB, PCB, and GTCB got someone who was willing to pitch in whenever called upon.

"It is unfortunate that in our egocentric culture where those who aspire to positions of leadership create every opportunity to exaggerate their accomplishments, the unassuming and humble often go unnoticed and unappreciated, at least until they are gone. We as an organization will feel deeply the loss of a good leader, but in the greater scheme of things, we will feel deeply the loss of a good and generous man," states Tony Swartz, PCB board member.

Gene dedicated both his professional and personal life to advocating for the blind. He worked for 30 years as a vocational rehabilitation counselor with the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services. In his retirement, Gene was concerned about issues such as voting and transportation. He became president of PCB in 2003 and was re-elected in 2005. Gene also served on the Pittsburgh region's Committee for Accessible Transportation, the City-County Task Force on Disabilities, and the Consumer-Provider Council on Blindness. He met with his local legislators frequently and attended numerous legislative seminars in the state capital.

"He was a man worth listening to because you knew what he said was well thought out and clearly stated," admits Ed Facemyer, Gene's long-time friend. "Whatever Gene did he put his heart and soul into."

Gene earned himself quite a reputation in the visually impaired community. Many referred to him as the "go-to guy," because whenever you needed something fixed, a project accomplished, or someone to talk to, Gene was the man. He put new siding on his home, tinkered with wheelchairs, built stands for the audible dart boards, caned chairs, and fixed everything. Gene was an easy person to talk to because you always knew he was listening. He had a thoughtful manner that gave credibility to everything he said. Gene had an infectious laugh that was usually followed by one of his incredibly detailed, never-embellished life stories. When Gene was not working on advocacy projects or helping friends, he enjoyed playing cards, shooting darts, bowling, listening to old-time radio or bluegrass, and following high school wrestling.

"Gene will be missed, but I know he expects us to work to insure that the quality of life for those who are blind and vision-impaired only gets better," says GTCB past president Bill Newland.

In lieu of flowers, you may send contributions in Gene's memory to either the Forbes Hospice, 113 S. Neville St., Pittsburgh, PA 15213, and/or the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind, 931 N. Front St., Harrisburg, PA 17102.

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