A Tribute to Bernie Barnicoat

Something very sad happened today.  A man that I knew, liked and respected passed away. Bernie Barnicoat was more than just my lecturer, though I didn’t know it back then. When I knew Bernie during those 3 years at Uni, my mental health status prevented me from giving it my all in lectures or really bonding properly with my classmates. Bernie never gave me a hard time about my sub-par work or what would have seemed like a lack of commitment. Despite not living up to his top students, he still made time for me. I nervously approached his office one day to talk about how I was going to improve my work. What I thought would be a ten minute telling off turned into a two hour chat about anything and everything. He was kind, warm and deeply cared about his students, often telling us that the three years he spent teaching us were the best of his career.

Five years later, I messaged Bernie and asked him if he wanted to meet up to talk about my new project. It must have seemed out of the blue, but he happily accepted and invited me to his house in Brigg, near Scunthorpe. Although I did intend to talk to him about this book and the website, I also wanted him to know why I was so withdrawn and ‘quiet’ in the time that he knew me. I wanted him to know that it wasn’t his teaching, or my lack of interest, and that I appreciated him. In particular I wanted him to know that his words inspired me.

I’m not a big believer in ‘everything happens for a reason’, but I’ll always be so grateful that I managed to see him before he died. I am glad that this is a regret that I will never have.

His last message to me was this; ‘Update. I know I have been silent this week. But I was as weak as a kitchen when I came home. I have been pushing a bit and have more strength in my legs and arms. So easier to get around. Thank you for being there for me. Have had a good Saturday so far. Please there is no need to reply. Thank you my friend.’

Back in that lecture room when I was lost in my own intrusive thoughts and downward spiral, one nugget of wisdom stuck with me and became my mantra. ‘When people tell you that the world’s problems are too big, and that it is impossible to make a difference, know that it is your duty to pick one piece of the puzzle, and begin. If you make the world a better place for even one community, or one person, it’s worth the effort. Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone felt that way?’

Thank you Bernie, for making my world a better place. When you didn’t answer your whatsapp message to me yesterday I knew something was up. You were active to the end,  talking to all of your friends. You had so many. I count myself lucky to be one.