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News > Deaths & Obituaries > BARR, William Bruce Ainsworth (Bill)

BARR, William Bruce Ainsworth (Bill)

You are warmly welcomed to leave a message below, share your memories, and celebrate the life of Bill Barr, who we sadly lost in 2018.
BARR, William Bruce Ainsworth (Bill)

Died in Australia, after a period of illness, on 19 May 2018, aged 73. His brother Charles (PH 53-58) writes:

William, known to many as Bill, died at his home in Renmark, South Australia, after a period of illness. He had emigrated in the 1970s, after graduating from Trinity College, Dublin. A large gathering of family and friends came together to mourn him and to celebrate his life, including his partner Pamela and their son Daniel; me, from England; and our brother Peter (FH 56-60) from Scotland. William had put down strong roots locally, notably as a sportsman, and later a coach, and a broadcaster on sporting topics; a bench was later dedicated in his memory outside the regional radio station in Renmark, overlooking the River Murray on which for many years he had maintained a boat. At the funeral, I was asked to speak on his sporting career, while others covered other aspects of his richly varied life, and this is adapted from that address:

William was named after our father, Bruce Ainsworth Barr (PS 20-25), who was born and raised in Ireland; Bruce’s working life was spent in England, where his three sons were all born, but he frequently went back, and took us with him, and he and our Scottish mother Jean went to live in County Down in retirement. In his day, he was a seriously good all-round sportsman, notably in rugby and athletics; having captained the Tonbridge XV for two years, he went on to play for Cambridge University and for London Irish, though he never quite, as his own father (also a Tonbridgian) had done, made the full Irish team.

As a schoolmaster, our father coached sport at a high level, and when he had sons, he must have had high hopes for them. He encouraged us to play sport, and we were sent to schools where sport was taken seriously. Both Peter and I were keen, and reasonably good, but he must have been disappointed to realise early on that neither of us was ever going to be in the same league as he was. But it was third time lucky. William was absolutely in the same league.

At the age of nine he was playing successfully in the first cricket eleven at Orwell Park prep school, with and against boys of 12 and 13, and captaining the under-11 soccer team. And he didn’t look back, as the school’s magazine testifies. In hockey, “Barr is the most skilful forward we have ever had at the school.” The team he dominated won 6 matches out of 6. The soccer team was equally triumphant, and “Barr’s heading was the best we have ever seen at the school.” He was captain of cricket aged 12 and again the next year at 13, and the magazine gave him this farewell:

As a batsman he is already capable of every shot. He has confidence and the attacking spirit and is not afraid to use his feet to slow bowlers, and if he has the opportunity to play later on and continues in this vein, he must reach the summit of a cricketer’s ambitions. He should at least aim at nothing less.

That was written by a teacher, Brian Belle, who knew what he was talking about – he had played at first-class level for Oxford and Essex and did not give praise easily. At Tonbridge William did pretty well, playing fly-half in the Rugby XV, and as a batsman in the XI for two years – and winner of the cup for Best Fielder – but he did not go on to reach the summit of a cricketer’s ambitions. He was already making squash his main priority (at the expense of spring-term hockey), and surely here he could well have reached the very top, if it hadn’t been for injury: he was captain of squash at Tonbridge, and later at Trinity Dublin, and became Irish squash champion before emigrating. It’s hard not to feel a double regret: first that he hadn’t pursued more single-mindedly at least one of the team games at which he excelled and, second, that his career as a squash player was cut short.

But it would be wrong to make it a story of disappointment. William was very competitive, but he also took pleasure, and gave pleasure, in the sheer skills and beauties of sport, first as a player and later as a follower, and as a coach, pleasures that go beyond who wins and loses. Here are two more quotes from his schooldays. First, as a soccer player aged 12. He wasn’t simply the best header of a ball that the school had ever had: “Barr had the brilliance and perfection of the concert pianist; everything was always under perfect control.” And another image comes from his appearance for Tonbridge against Clifton at Lord’s, aged 17. I talked recently to Mike Bushby, who had come to Tonbridge after captaining Cambridge against Colin Cowdrey’s Oxford, and who retains warm memories of William as a key member of one of the school’s best-ever teams. He particularly remembered what the umpires said to him when they came off at the end of an innings in which William and the team were fielding. These were two hard-bitten old professionals who had played and then umpired for decades, but they were glowing with enthusiasm, saying to Mike that “It was like a circus out there.” Meaning not that they were a lot of clowns, but that they were like acrobats, doing spectacular things with great timing and great teamwork, backing each other up as acrobats have to. And Mike was insistent: “William was the inspiration. He set the tone.”

So I end with those two images, which so beautifully evoke the skills, and the joy, of William as a youthful sportsman: the concert pianist, and the circus acrobat. They capture the kind of relish for, and understanding of, sport at its best that he carried through his life and communicated to others. Owing much to his Irish forebears, both physically, in the genes, and in spirit. In line with what he always wanted, his ashes will be taken back in July 2019 to Ireland, to Newcastle, County Down, where he loved to play golf, and where he will join our parents in the family grave at the foot of the Mourne mountains.

(FH 58-62)

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