Alfred “Alf” Barnett

Birth: December 26, 1917 in London, England

Death: March 2, 2001 in Victoria, B.C.

He married Ann “Hannah” Isaacs Barnett in 1960.

Rabbi Lynn Greenhough gave the following eulogy at his funeral:
Just before Shabbat last week, Alf Barnett, Avram ben Dov Ber v’Chava, died. Martin had been in to see him Thursday night and had brought Alf his favourite dinner – steak and kidney pie, which Alf ate with pleasure. As Martin was leaving he bent over to give his dad a hug good-bye, something he didn’t always do, sensing perhaps this might be the last time he held his father. Entirely in character, Alf shrugged him off, and gruffly told him to “leave me alone.” On Friday he slipped away quickly and quietly.

When I sat down to write this hesped I thought that I should really be writing on the backs of envelopes, on small recycled scraps of paper – as Alf always had done. He was never one to waste. Ruth told me about the letters she would receive from her father always on a scrap of envelope. He would often ask her to make payments, and tell her to pay from the Barnett bank. Alf used to say the Barnett bank was for withdrawls only, and that the bank’s speciality was his grandchildren.

But the story of Alf Barnett’s life was not only about withdrawls. It was about deposits. Alf put perseverance, pride and humour into the Barnett Bank account. As eldest brother and patriarch of his family he took responsibility for the care of his children, his parents, his wives, his siblings, his grandchildren and his friends.

Alf was always advising, helping, listening. Even if his caring sometimes felt too controlling, his advice was always given with his own acerbic sense of humour. Tova described him as “always the boss.” He was a pugnacious man and would march into the office of the mayor whenever he thought it necessary to defend his rights.

Alf left school and started his working life at fourteen, as a tailor – as his father and father-in-law had been. He enjoyed tailoring but said he really didn’t have any choice. Alf was an old-style tailor. He would finger the lapels of ready made suits and mutter darkly about how poorly made they were.

Martin and Ruth’s mother Helen was the love of Alf’s life, but when Helen died Alf was left in charge of their care. He turned to Helen’s family for help and asked Helen’s cousin Anne to come and help with the children. Anne agreed and in 1960 Alf and Anne were married. Alf and Anne bought ‘The Rose’ in Cambridge, and his life as a publican began.

They had 40 years together, years of loving companionship, hard work and devotion to family. Alf was the kind of person who was well known and well loved. Martin recalled going for a ten minute walk with his father which inevitably became a twenty minute walk as people stopped to shmooze with his father.

In 1989 Alf made the decision for them to come to Canada. Once settled in Victoria Alf quickly realized retirement only meant more opportunity for work. He did all the bookkeeping for Martin’s business and stoutly declared, “I’d be bored out of my mind if I didn’t have something to do.” Alf always set an example of hard work and generous dedication to his family, providing a hands-on giving that his children and grandchildren will long remember.

I still have the box of ‘The Rose’ matches Alf gave me with a picture of Alf wearing his favourite tie with a rose on it. We eke these matches out, maybe using one for Shabbat candles, another for havdalah. Whenever we light using one of these special matches we think of Alf behind the bar at the Rose. The flame from that one small box of matches always reminds us how precious each of us is, how precious each day is.

One day in January I visited Alf in hospital. Ruth and her children were there. We only visited briefly but I was so touched by the strength of his presence, even as he lay still, so touched by his daughter’s fussing and his grandson protecting him from her fussing. I felt this family and I knew in my bones that his light would continue within them. I treasure that memory.

Alf had many names and nicknames. After the war he changed his name from Portashnik to Barnett, after his father’s name, Beryl. Growing up in London his mother used to call him ‘the Terror of Soho’. In Cambridge he was the ‘Ayatollah of Rose Crescent’. He was brother to Harry, Dad to Martin and Ruth, and Grandad to Naomi, Dan, Jaimie, Nattie, Elijah, Poppy, Tova, Sean, Iain and Joanna. We knew him as Alf. But I think his Hebrew name, Avram ben Dov Ber v’Chava accurately reflects his nature.

Dov, in Hebrew, Ber in Yiddish both mean ‘bear’. In many ways Alf was a bear – he was fiercely loyal to his family, he had a temper, he could be both gruff and gentle, gregarious and generous. And Alf’s kind of bear is definitely on the endangered species list. His mother’s name, Chava, personifies the vigorous life she gave her son, a life Alf gave his children, a life which they in turn have given to their own children. Alf’s physical body may have died, but his life truly continues in his family, in their memories and love for each other. As his soul returns to HaMakom, our Source, may his memory be a blessing for us all.

Gravesite Details: Row D – Plot 9

26 DEC 1917 – 2 MAR 2001


Ann “Hannah” Isaacs Barnett

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