Family and friends of Rex Barnett, and people who knew and worked with him as councillor for Haydon Wick and also Mayor of Swindon from May 2010 to May 2011, came together to celebrate his life on 25 June.
Rex’s wife Sandra and their daughters Sara and Alison and grandchildren were joined by well over 250 people in St Mary’s Church in Rodbourne Cheney to remember the popular 74 year old from Greenmeadow who died at Great Western Hospital on 11 June from lung cancer. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma towards the end of his mayoral year in 2011.
Photo top and below, Rex and Sandra at the Swindon Big Arts Day in July 2010, collecting some of the £68,000 they raised for charity during his mayoral year
Image below at the 25 June celebration service by Richard Wintle of Calyx
The service to celebrate his life was led by Reverend Nick Lines.
In between uplifting hymns there were contributions from the leader of Swindon Council, fellow Haydon Wick ward councillor David Renard, Rex’s close friend Ron Herring and his brother-in-law Haydn Newman. Rev David Day spoke on behalf of Willows Counselling, one of the charities that Rex supported during his mayoral year.
Cllr Renard said Rex had been a tireless worker to further the interests of Haydon Wick yet could balance the needs of the whole borough when difficult decisions had to be made. "I first met Rex in 2006 and whilst I knew him for a relatively short time, very quickly felt as if I had known him for much longer. I was impressed by his diligence and commitment to his community.
"He worked on many issues, the largest being the flooding of Haydon Wick. He worked hard with other councillors to explain to the borough council and the Environmental Agency that major flood alleviation was required. I’m sorry that he isn’t here to see the completion of the scheme.
"We would sometimes play the good cop, bad cop routine. Rex would put aside his cheery manner and rant about a problem that we were concerned about, then I would come in with ‘I think Rex was trying to say.’ It was often an effective approach.
“Rex’s greatest achievement was his time as mayor. He had one of the busiest diaries of any mayor in recent years. He was as comfortable chatting with 7 year olds in the classroom as he was with 70 year olds in a sheltered housing scheme.
"He was the first to acknowledge his grasp of procedure when he chaired full council meetings was not complete, but his impish smile, his charm and his sheer force of personality made the meetings interesting.
"Our colleague Cllr Rod Bluh said losing Rex Barnett felt as if a light has been switched off. Rex had a huge impact on me as I am sure he did on many others. I will miss him as a friend and colleague.
“I don’t believe he ever called me by my name. He always called me ‘chief’; I can’t recall how, why or when it started, but I always found it endearing. Life won’t be the same again not hearing him say it.”
Rev David Day, reading a tribute for Mike Fisher, executive director of Willows Counselling Service, said that Rex was an amazing man, inspiring and charismatic, who recognised the need for counselling because it changed people’s lives. He and Sandra were an inspiring team who joined the Willows support committee and even during treatment for his illness continued to put in all his energy, only complaining that he was ‘a bit short of puff’ if asked how he was.
"Individuals like Rex inspire hope, they change people’s lives. He touched so many lives, he will be missed by so many people."
Ron Herring, Rex’s friend for over 50 years, recalled family holidays together, including a camping trip when Rex had packed his blowtorch to use instead of a conventional outdoor stove. The first meal was ruined when the bottom of the pan melted. On another occasion Rex and family arrived at the camping site with the kitchen table strapped upside-down to the roof of his car.
"Our first skiing trip to the Pyrenees ended in disaster for Rex when he broke his collar bone on the first day and spent most of the next week in bed tended lovingly by Sandra.
"Rex had a great ability to laugh at himself, never trying to be something he wasn’t.”
“Rex has become a legend in this town. Not by any sporting prowess or physical achievements but because of his kindness and determination to help where help is needed. He was always there for me.
“He always knew somebody who knew somebody when I needed advice. His stoicism during this illness is a lesson to us all. I have been very fortunate in having had Rex as my friend."
Rex’s brother in law Haydn Newman added: "If Rex saw this gathering today, he would sum it up in one word: ‘magical.’"
Rev Nick Lines said he had known Rex for 12 years and soon after his arrival realised a wonderful quality about his presence. "He just sort of quietly got on with things in church. He once said to me very honestly: ‘All this stuff about following God, I follow Sandra.’ He recognised his limitations but I think saw in Sandra that God was reaching to him.
"When he became mayor, as his chaplain I became swept up in Rex and Sandra’s activism in the community. Yet he was more than happy to take on the humble jobs at events, clearing up the tea cups and doing the washing up.
"Whilst he was following Sandra, I think Rex gradually came close to Jesus, recognising him as a servant of the people. He caught sight of this and worked his socks off in his name."
During his time as mayor, Rex, with Sandra, raised £68,000 for his three chosen charities – Prospect Hospice, the
Willows Counselling Service and the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Movement (CALM). A further 11 charities and good causes also benefitted from that total.
Rex and Sandra’’s daughter Sara read a poem during the service and the Kentwood Choir concluded the service with the Irish Blessing.