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George Barnes – silently impacting a school for decades

Students at Riverside Elementary School lined a hallway with cards expressing their love for “Mr. George,” as well as saying good by to him.  Mr. George, George Anthony Barnes, had worked at the school for 27 years. Students at Riverside Elementary School lined a hallway with cards expressing their love for “Mr. George,” as well as saying good by to him.  Mr. George, George Anthony Barnes, had worked at the school for 27 years. Mark Skinner | TIMES

Riverside Elementary lost a friend, an employee and most of all a friend to every student who walked the halls of Riverside for 29 years. 

When Barnes was diagnosed with cancer, students and staff were saddened and put their minds to work on ways to help.  They held a fundraiser to assist with medical expenses, wrote notes, said a ton of prayers, along with posters with good well wishes lining the walls of Riverside. 

Teachers and students alike were eager to share memories and thoughts of Mr. George. Many students and even some faculty were unaware of Mr. George’s last name – he was just affectionately known as “Mr. George”.  

Alayana Calloway is fairly new to Riverside, three years young there, “This is the third year I have taught at Riverside, and since I have gotten here, Mr. George has always been a highlight of my day.  His friendly face and encouraging words would make any day better.  I never once saw him without a smile on his face.  He loved the students and faculty at Riverside, and we loved him!  When we learned he was sick, my students and I would pray for him.  They learned to love him and would be so excited when he was at work because they knew he felt well enough to come.  When he passed away, we made cards to him as closure but will keep his memory alive.  His empty chair that he always sat in is so hard to see, but I know we will see him again one day when the Lord calls us home too.  Mr. George was a special person, and he will ALWAYS be in our hearts.”    

Paige Cavanaugh reiterated, “George Barnes, or as the students at Riverside called him, “Mr. George,” was a warm smile and a helping hand at Riverside for 29 years. When asked to recall Mr. George, several students used the same words repeatedly: kind, helpful, and a hard worker. Just last month, the students of RES blessed him and his family in a time of need by selling snack cakes. The school and community raised over $3,000. Yesterday, as the students learned of his passing, several found comfort visiting the front hallway. There they found baskets of snack cakes, paper, markers, and tape. Creating tributes to Mr. George was a big part of the day. From simple one line wishes to heart-felt letters to his family, the wall quickly became a way for our students and staff to stop and reflect upon the blessing Mr. George was to each of us. A sign on the wall says it best, “Mr. George Barnes, the Heart of Riverside, Always.”

Julie Melton worked with Barnes for 22 years, “To know George Barnes was to love him!  I was blessed to work with him for over 22 years at Riverside Elementary School.  From day one, he was one of the most kind, positive, and inspiring individuals I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting.  George’s love for the Lord was evident in all his actions and in everything he said.  In fact, I’ve never heard a negative word come from his mouth in 22 years even when he was battling cancer.  To me, that sums his character up completely. George radiated love in all he did and said here at RES.  No matter what I needed in my room or if it was just a kind word, George was always there. The joy in his heart was truly contagious, and his smile warmed my heart.  I will forever be grateful to have had a relationship with George.  Heaven received an angel on March 4, 2019, and Riverside will never be the same.”

Sheri Byrd is another seasoned teacher at RES who has worked alongside Mr. George for many years, “My heart is broken with the passing of Mr. George. Mr. George had a smile that lit up the room.  He had such a gentle soul that was easily seen in the way he carried himself.  His kindness reached more than just the teachers and staff, it reached the students, too.  He would guide kids to own their behavior and come up with ways to correct it, without ever raising his voice.  On a more personal note, I was blessed to have spent many afternoons just talking to Mr. George about school and life.  His wisdom was enlightening and his talks inspiring.  They gave me hope when I felt defeated and discouraged.  He celebrated with me through my triumphs and success.  There is no greater man than one that is kind, humble, and genuine, and that was Mr. George!”

We talked with a fifth-grade student this week who had fond memories of her time with Mr. George, “He was a very nice man and he always had a big smile. He said kind things to the kids when he would see them in the hall.  We were very sad that he died but my mom said Mr. George doesn’t hurt any more and he’s with God.”  

The Times sends its condolences to the family and friends of George Barnes who will miss him greatly. 

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