UNION COUNTY — Ray “Bit” Barber passed away on Monday July 7, 2020. Since the news of his passing became public the outpouring of love this community has had for Bit has been amazing. We have listened to many stories about our friend, some of them funny, some of them heartwarming, and many of them made us cry. I took my time getting around to writing this because I wanted to make sure I got this one right.
Listening to others talk about Bit over the last week, I have heard a lot of the same things from many people. The one thing that keeps coming up every time I heard people talk about Bit, is the word selfless. I cannot think of a better way to describe Bit, than with that word. He truly was selfless. Everything he did was for others. He was always asking about others and doing things for other people, never expecting anything in return. I have heard several people say this week that Bit would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it, and there is no doubt in my mind that he would have done exactly that. He was always thinking of other people, and if he was out somewhere and saw something that made him think of someone he would often buy it for them or send them a picture of it and tell them he was thinking of them.
Bit volunteered his time for many years to Yellow Jacket Football. He loved the Yellow Jackets more than anyone I have ever known. He was a walking encyclopedia of Union football. Over the years he has told me many stories of his time with Coach Shell Dula back in the early 90’s, and how much Coach Dula enjoyed Diet Mountain Dew and Twinkies. We would often reminisce about the glory days under both Coach Dula and Coach Anthony and all the games we went to and Bit could recall many things that most of us had forgotten about.
WSPA Sports anchor Pete Yanity recently named Union High School the number six football program of the last thirty years in his count down of the top ten teams, and when this came out Bit called me almost immediately. We talked about the teams that we thought would be ahead of Union in that countdown, and so far we have been exactly right, and then Bit went on to say, “You know we could have been higher.” He relived a few plays from 1989 that if this or that would have gone differently we would have won, he said they same thing about 1996, and of course 2001.
There is no question that on the list of things Bit loved Yellow Jacket Football is near the top of the list. It was so important to him that when he recently found himself unemployed and looking for a new job, one of his requirements for accepting a job offer was that he needed to be off on Friday nights, especially in the fall. So when he went for a job interview at Wal-Mart and they offered him a job he made sure that they could abide with his wishes. He did not accept the job until he was assured they could do that for him. That is dedication.
I first met Bit in the spring of 2002. I was a Sophomore at Union High School and I had decided in December of 2001 at the State Championship Game that Union lost to Camden, that I was going to play football the next year. Bit was always there at practice, and at games doing whatever needed to be done to help the team. He would tape ankles, knees, change cleats, fix helmets, or whatever was needed or asked of him. He always made sure we had plenty of “Gameday Grape” gum and gatorade. He would do whatever he could just to be a part of the team and he never asked for or wanted any recognition. He was selfless. Of course that year, my junior year, we went on to win the 3A State Championship and I don’t think there was anyone happier that Bit.
Some years passed and I found myself working at WBCU. Bo Rabb retired and I became the host of the Sports Hour on Saturday mornings. For a while it was me and Lawrence Price hosting the show talking Yellow Jackets and mostly college sports. One Saturday morning I invited Derik Vanderford and Bit to be my guests on the show to talk about an upcoming Trans South Wrestling event at the fairgrounds. At the end of the interview I thanked them both for coming and as most sports talk show hosts do I told them to come back anytime.
Bit took me at my word and started coming every week. No matter what was going on, even if he worked the third the night before, Bit was there. After Lawrence got sick and wasn’t able to come every week, for a while it was just me and Bit. He studied sports. Especially football and baseball and could spit out stats and names, like it was nothing. A lot of times he would spit out a stat or a name so quick I though he was making it up, he wasn’t.
During that time hosting that show together Bit and I developed a pretty close friendship. We talked several times a week even after I left WBCU for my new job at Fox Sports Spartanburg. He kept me up to date with everything going on at UCHS, especially during football season. He took pride in being my “source” for Union. When we brought our radio show to Union, I would tell Bit we were coming and that I would have a headset for him. He would show up too and always supported us every time he could. Whenever I would schedule a big guest for the show Bit was usually the first one I would call and tell, because I knew he would want to listen. He was especially thrilled when we got Arn Anderson and Jim Ross because Bit sure loved his wrestling.
One day, a few years ago, Bit called me and said, “Hey I need to ask you something.” It was unlike Bit to ask me for anything, so of course I was happy to do whatever I could for him because of all the stuff he had done for me. He said, “I have an extra ticket to Garth Brooks this weekend in Charleston, and it is yours if you will drive and if we can take your truck.” I told him I would be glad to take him and drive my truck but that I would also pay him for the ticket, he wouldn’t hear of it. So we drove to Charleston ate a great dinner and saw a great concert. He was mad all the way home, and has brought it up several times since then, because Trisha Yearwood didn’t sing “Walkaway Joe.” The conversations we had in the truck to and from the concert were priceless and now I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.
Bit many times liked to remind me of the time that I was umpiring church league softball and threw him out of a game. He was coaching for Sardis at the time and they had the team to beat each and every year. A couple of their players got aggravated with me one night at the way I was calling balls and strikes. One of the first things they teach you when you become an umpire is you don’t let players or coaches argue balls and strikes. Well Bit did and I let is slide for a while, then apparently he had enough and yelled something and threw his score book up in the air and huffed in dramatic fashion. When he threw the book in the air I immediately ejected him from the ball game by saying, “you’re out of here.” He didn’t get mad or yell or anything he simply turned around. Said, “Ok” and walked out. That was Bit. He would be mad for a second, but he didn’t stay that way.
Bit was a lot of things. He was an avid sports fan. He loved his Yellow Jackets, Gamecocks, Dolphins, and Braves. He loved wrestling. We used to talk about the old days of pro wrestling all the time. He loved being a part of wrestling shows whether it was Trans South or elsewhere. He loved music and attended concerts as much as possible. He loved his church and his church family at Crestview. No doubt in my mind that Bit is in heaven today talking Yellow Jacket Sports with folks like Bo Rabb and Lawrence Price.
Bit loved being on the radio and talking sports. But the thing that has stuck out to me the most this week is Bit was a friend. He never wanted to be in the spot light, he never wanted to be recognized for anything he did. He did things for people because he genuinely loved them and cared about them. I hope Bit knows how much we all loved and appreciated him. He was a great friend to so many people, me included.
I think Coach Anthony said it best at the funeral we all should strive to “Be Like Bit, kind, humble, selfless, and treated everyone the same.” Coach Anthony went on to read a scripture that he thought personified the life Bit lived, Luke 6:35 NKJV, “Love your enemies, do good, hoping for nothing in return, and your reward will be great.” That was Bit’s life. There is no doubt that when he arrived in heaven his reward was great.
I am going to miss our talks, I am going to miss the game day grape bubble gum, but more than anything else I am going to miss a kind, humble, loyal, and selfless friend. Friday nights just won’t be the same in Union County without Ray “Bit” Barber.
Tyler Shugart is the host of “Bump and Run” from 7-9 a.m. on Fox Sports 1400 AM 98.3 FM in Spartanburg. He can be reached at [email protected]