Ocean Beach 05

William David Barry

August 26, 1946 ~ November 26, 2023 (age 77) 77 Years Old

William Barry Obituary

William David Barry (1946-2023), writer, author, and historian, known as Bill, died suddenly November 26, 2023, at his home in Portland with his wife Debra Verrier Barry at his side. 

Born August 26, 1946, in Burlington, VT to Barbara Lane Barry and Bartholomew David Barry, the eldest of five children. His family moved to North Adams, MA and then East Longmeadow, MA, both communities where Bill went to grade and high schools and began lifelong friendships, with many continuing during his life in Maine. He graduated from the University of Vermont with a B.A. and M.A. in Art History.

          Barry’s first job in Maine was at Pineland Center, Pownal, teaching children with special circumstances and needs, which deepened his concern for all people not yet in the mainstream because of race, sex and/or sexual orientation, ethnicity, or disability. His eye-opening and groundbreaking 1980 DownEast article on Malaga Island was an introduction to Barry’s published work as inclusive of all Maine people.

He then began work in his field as Curator of Research at the Portland Museum of Art and in 1981 collaborated with Gael May McKibben at the Payson Gallery, University of New England on another groundbreaker:  Women Pioneers in Maine in Art -- the firsts of three exhibits and catalogues over the decades. He soon became a cultural historian of Maine.

          Bill and Debra were married September 13,1980. She became his muse, editor, and work partner.  They always lived in Portland, walking, and using public transportation.  Walking gave him an envelope of history, architecture, feeling, culture, friends and material for writing.  Maine history buffs knew about Bill’s keen interest in 19th Century American art.

William David Barry’s published work is borderline mammoth, all about Maine and Maine people.  The Maine Historical Society’s website lists 130 publications under Barry’s name, and many collaboratives, a result of his genuine ease, humor, and willingness to work with others.  His assistance in researching authors was vast and unheralded. Barry wrote so many book reviews for the Maine Sunday Telegram over 50 years that counting them would be a long task, as well as articles and book reviews for Maine History Journal, DownEast Magazine, Portland Monthly Magazine, and other publications. 

Barry authored the first comprehensive history of Maine in 100 years: Maine: The Wilder Half of New England (2012); co-authored Greater Portland Landmark’s The History of Deering (2010); and was in the middle of researching and writing a history of the Maine Historical Society - The Mind Still on the Search, the first section was published in the 2023 Maine History Journal. He was a president of the Baxter Society and instrumental in its publication, Mirror of Maine, compendium of 100 books by Maine writers. Barry received the 2005 Neal W. Allen Jr. Maine History Award from the Maine Historical Society for his work in Maine History.

Bill’s written work was woven into his career as a reference librarian at MHS.  He worked closely over the years with other historians, such as Elizabeth Ring, Earle Shettleworth, Jr., Richard D’Abate, Stephen Bromage, Nicholas Noyes and Jamie Kingman Rice. 

Bill enjoyed sailing in Casco Bay, excursions to art museums, little-known historical sites in Maine and traveled abroad.  He loved cats, Nadine the most current.  His sense of humor was always tucked into his writing and conversations.  He was quoted in the Portland Press Herald’s December 2, 2023, article about him as having said, in a prior interview about the title of his book Maine: The Wilder Side of New England,

          “There is more wilderness here than the rest of New England, and as a life-long, half Yankee, half Irish denizen with 41 years of living here, I would say the people seem wilder too; that is, more engaged and more sharply etched.”

He is survived by his wife Debra and by his sister Kathleen Barry Freme (John), brothers Robert (Mary) Daniel (Kay) and John (Stephanie). Also surviving Bill are his brother-in-law, John Verrier and partner Barbara Bailey, sister-in-law Constance Parenteau and partner Paul Maloney. Bill had a great number of friends and colleagues. He also has many nieces, nephews, great-nieces nephews, and cousins who are too numerous to name but who were always in his thoughts.

His committal will be at 1 PM on Friday  September 13, 2024, at Evergreen Cemetery in Portland and an Irish Wake will be held the following day. Times for both will be announced later.

In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the Animal Refuge Leage of Greater Portland and /or Maine Historical Society.

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Graveside Service
September 13, 2024

1:41 PM to 7:00 PM
Evergreen Cemetery, Portland


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