The Rev. James Glenn Barrow, 75, rests and reigns victorious after a 28-year battle with Parkinson’s disease that ended Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023, at his longtime home in Bay Minette, Alabama. He was an ordained United Methodist minister and longtime co-owner of Furniture Mart, his family’s business that has operated for nearly a half century.
He was “Jim” to most. “Jimmy” to his wife and best friend, Carol Jean, and extended family members. “Dad” and “Pop” to his children and grandchildren.
The cruelties of a neurological ailment diminished Jim physically. But never did Parkinson’s break his gentle spirit. He lived from his healthy youth to his last breath with a generosity and grace rooted in boundless empathy.
In Biblical terms, he was an Old Testament Job and a New Testament James. Reflecting the lessons of Job, he did not deny challenges and frustrations. But acceptance was never resignation. He endured, buoyed by his faith and understanding that we all are part of something bigger, and that it is a blessing to live as a child of God, among the children of God.
As such, he reflected the lessons of James, his faith quietly and consistently demonstrated through his works – simple acts of service and love by a man who had an abiding respect for everyone he encountered.
Carol Jean summed him up just so: “He listened with his heart.”
She was devoted to his care throughout his illness, a manifestation of vows they took together in Tuscaloosa in 1973. His last months, weeks and hours were spent surrounded by the love of immediate and extended family, close friends and his last caregivers, including the most special “Miss DeeDee.” But Carol Jean was the anchor, determined that he be comfortable and know how much he was and will remain loved. Despite Jim completing this life, the family plans to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on Sept. 22.
Jim was a voracious reader and lifelong learner, scouring his impressive library until the final months of his life when he physically could no longer hold a book and turn a page. He leaves behind walls of histories and biographies, scriptural commentaries, Greek and Hebrew translations, how-to business manuals and periodicals across a range of subjects. He thumbed the pages of his last “Disciple” Bible study book – a course he once taught in the United Methodist Church – until it had to be held together with clamps. He filled its pages with notes, the credentialed minister and teacher remaining a humble student.
He was dutiful and loyal, qualities shown clearly through the time he spent at Furniture Mart, the store his parents founded in the late 1970s. After his own father’s death in 1990, Jim and Carol Jean moved with their sons to Bay Minette, where Jim spent decades as the family representative in the business his parents had built into a successful enterprise. And through all of the difficulties of his final months, Jim held on until he had assurances from longtime friends and Furniture Mart leaders, Rhonda Moorer and Vernae Flowers, that his parents’ legacy was secure.
Jim was quietly funny – a dry wit, full of “Dad” jokes” and always good-natured. He enjoyed laughing at his own material, with a wry side smile and a bit of a wheeze that let you know just how entertaining he thought things could be. Among his many legacies are grandsons working to perfect Pop’s “duck talk,” quacking in their own grandfatherly language.
He was a storyteller, from his sons’ nursery days to the pulpit. He loved preaching from Jesus’ parables, especially the prodigal son and the mustard seed. He regaled his boys, John and Bill, with stories of his own creation, especially “The Little Airplane,” and all three relished their trips to Birmingham airport to watch airplanes take off and land.
Jim enjoyed his Auburn Tigers and his St. Louis Cardinals. But true to form, he never imposed his loyalties on his sons, letting them make their own choices. He would not gloat or even needle opposing fans – and might even chide his sons when they chose that route. He even married a University of Alabama graduate (she eventually converted).
Though Parkinson’s would fade his voice to silence, at full strength his rich baritone could fill a sanctuary. Until the pandemic of 2020 left him homebound, he sang in the chancel choir of what was then First United Methodist Church of Bay Minette. In earlier years, he was a soloist, most frequently singing simple, dignified arrangements of favorite hymns, “Be Still My Soul” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness” among them. His friend, Sue Edwards, recalled coming to Sunday night services in Bay Minette and hoping she arrived later than Jim, “just so I could sit in front of him and hear him sing.”
Jim was born Sept. 27, 1947, in Pensacola, Florida, to Ralph Eugene and Kathleen Stephens Barrow. Both preceded him in death. He graduated from Murphy High School (Mobile, Alabama) in 1965 and Auburn University in 1968 with a degree in mathematics. He served in the U.S. Army, including a tour in Vietnam, service the U.S. Congress has recognized as a presumptive cause of Parkinson’s for veterans who spent time in combat zones poisoned by Agent Orange. He graduated from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology with a Master of Divinity, conferred in 1977.
As an ordained deacon and then elder, he served appointments across the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church: The Wedowee Circuit (Ava, Green’s Chapel, Bear Creek and Midway), 1976-77; Trinity (Tuscaloosa), associate minister, 1977-78; East Lake (Birmingham), associate minister, 1978-1981; Saks, 1981-85; DeArmanville, 1985-1988; Calera, 1988-91. After assuming his role at Furniture Mart, he served Perido United Methodist Church in Baldwin County from 1996 to 2000. At various points in his ministry, he served in the Kairos prison ministry and as a Stephen Minister, counseling and visiting others suffering from various conditions even as he dealt with his own.
Besides Carol Jean, Jim is survived by two sons and daughters-in-law, John Andrew Barrow (Paige Eubanks) of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and William Jacob (Bill) Barrow (Michelle Krupa) of Atlanta; three grandsons, Nathaniel Wesley, James Whitney and Zachary Joseph; two brothers, Michael Dean (Jane) of Wayland, Massachusetts, and Ralph Owens (Linda) of Durham, North Carolina; and many other devoted nieces and nephews, cousins and in-laws.
The family will greet mourners for a visitation and wake Tuesday, Sept. 12, at the Family Life Center fellowship hall of First Methodist Church of Bay Minette from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at First United Methodist Church of Atmore, with the Revs. Jay Cooper and Andy Gartman officiating. Burial will follow at Fort Crawford Cemetery in East Brewton. Pallbearers will be Willie Marshall, George Moorer, Don Flowers, Casey Flowers, Steve Christenberry, Aldo Edwards and Josh Brandon.
In lieu of flowers, the family directs those who wish to honor Jim to the following: the Parkinson’s Foundation; UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief; or the Reverend James Glenn Barrow Alumni Endowed Student Scholarship at Auburn University.