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SETTING THE BARR

By Meagan Russell
In Bayou Icon
Oct 5th, 2020
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Those who know Guy and Loura Barr say they are one of those couples that truly inspire others — to do their part, to do more, and to do their best. Guy and Loura (or “Team Barr” as they refer to themselves) have left a remarkable legacy of love for their fellow man in everything that they have done. Together in marriage for 56 years, these two have never stopped living the creed of service to others. Because of their remarkable record of professional, community, and volunteer work, Guy and Loura Barr are our Bayou Icons for October.

ARTICLE BY GEORGIANN POTTS
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELLY MOORE CLARK

Guy and Loura Barr believe it was destiny that brought them together. Because of her father’s job, Loura traveled extensively. She attended four different high schools (Meridian and Natchez, Mississippi; Opelousas, Louisiana; and Wesson, Mississippi) before enrolling in Copiah-Lincoln Community College. Guy grew up on his family’s farm in Magee, Mississippi, spending his childhood. In 1960, he also enrolled in Copiah-Lincoln. There he met Loura Eastham, a pretty blue-eyed brunette with a perpetual smile and boundless energy. Their love story would not begin, however, until 3 years later.


Guy Barr is a Mississippi fellow at heart who learned early the value of a man’s word, working hard, and living one’s faith. Long days on the farm doing chores — milking cows, plowing, harvesting crops — helped impress on Guy the importance of getting an education so that he could do something different once he was grown. His father, Guy Barr Sr., was an excellent farmer and involved father. His mother, Ulma Bounds, was a stay-at-home mom who cared for 8 children – 5 boys and 3 girls born over 20 years. Farm days began early, and Guy often joined his mother in the kitchen to help make biscuits and fry bacon and eggs for the family breakfast.

In the third grade, Guy became a “quitter” for the first and only time in his life. He began taking piano lessons, but when the football players (whom he deeply admired) made fun of him, his piano-playing days came to an abrupt end. Today, if pressed, he will play “Chop Sticks.” Those football players and his love of sports were major influences early in Guy’s life. He played football and basketball in Magee, and earned a football scholarship to Copiah-Lincoln. Guy was a natural leader so he participated in many extra-curricular activities – 4-H, Class Officer all 4 years in high school, Glee club, and Mississippi Boys State. His dad drove the team bus to Guy’s games creating a special bond between father and son. During the summers, Guy helped his dad haul watermelons from Florida to the Farmers’ Market in Jackson before their own crop came in.


Three coaches whom Guy played for in junior high and high school were important mentors and influenced his life. Coach Bucky McElroy, Coach Jerry Taylor, and Coach Charles Calloway helped the young teenager understand the values of teamwork and goal-setting. They became lifelong friends. Guy’s favorite subject was history where he learned about world leaders and how each had made a difference for others. That love for history continued when later, as a coach, Guy got to teach history.


In contrast, Loura Eastham never stayed in one place long enough to put down permanent roots. She was born in Mansfield, Louisiana, to James Marvin Eastham and Audell Jones. Both of her parents grew up on farms – father in Toone, Tennessee; and mother in Magee, Mississippi. They met when Loura’s father was building a road in Magee. He worked as dirt superintendent for Cook Construction Company and traveled all over the country building roads, dams, airports, and turnpikes. As Loura describes it, “My mom ran the house, while my dad ran his job. She sewed, gardened, and cooked great southern foods for us.”


Loura’s mom was also adept at moving because of her husband’s job assignments. Loura lived in eight states while she was growing up. Along the way, in spite of the frequent moves, Loura always made friends. “Meeting new friends was fun,” she says, “but leaving old ones behind was hard.” Her mother always advised her children to remember that to have a friend, they must smile and be one. It was sound advice.


Loura remembers that when the family lived in Kirwin, Kansas, she attended second, third, fourth, and part of fifth grades where the first four grades were all taught in the same room. There she learned cursive writing and discovered through Miss Campbell, her third and fourth grade teacher, her own desire to teach one day.


Like her future husband, Loura loved music. In the fifth, sixth, and seventh grades in Strongsville, Ohio, Loura took clarinet lessons. “I liked carrying the case to and from school, but not the practice,” she remembers with a laugh. The only downside about her school years was that she had twin siblings just two years younger. “They stuck together,” Loura says, “and I always got blamed because I was older.”


Because of the frequent moves, Loura couldn’t participate in team sports, but swimming and neighborhood softball kept her fit. Her favorite high school class was Home Economics where she loved the challenge of making (sewing or cooking) new things. She won 4-H ribbons in the 7th grade in Strongsville, Ohio, for her sewing. These skills would serve her later as would typing classes which she found helpful with summer jobs and later, office work.

COLLEGE YEARS
In 1960 both Loura and Guy entered Copiah-Lincoln. Guy played football; Loura was a cheerleader and on the homecoming court; and they worked in collegiate organizations together. They first met while they were both serving on the Baptist Student Union council, but were dating others so were just friends. In 1962 Loura graduated from Copiah-Lincoln and transferred to the University of Oklahoma for her junior year to be close to her parents who were now living in Oklahoma.


After two years at Copiah-Lincoln, Guy transferred to Delta State University in Cleveland on a football scholarship. During his first season there, he suffered a back injury that ended his playing career. Delta State Coach Horace McCool told Guy that he could remain on scholarship if he became trainer and equipment manager for the team. “I learned many of life’s important lessons in and around that football field and locker room,” Guy says. In 1964, he graduated with his BS in Secondary Education majoring in history and minoring in physical education. In 1970 he would earn a Master’s in School Administration from Northwestern University in Natchitoches, Louisiana.


In the summer of 1963, Loura returned to Mississippi and enrolled in Delta State University primarily because of its excellent reputation as a teachers’ college. She graduated from Delta State in 1964 with a BS in Elementary Education and a minor in physical education. Coach Margaret Wade, a Delta State coach and teacher, was a mentor whose advice and friendship Loura appreciated.


Both Guy and Loura worked during the summers while they were in college. The summer after his freshman year at Copiah-Lincoln, Guy worked on the family farm – the last time that he would do so. The next summer Guy trained in Nashville for Southwestern Publishing and then sold Bibles and dictionaries door-to-door in Walterboro, South Carolina. It was an auspicious beginning as the young Barr was named Rookie of the Year for the company his first time working in sales. The next year (following back surgery), Guy worked in the hills of eastern Kentucky with a team to sell for Southwestern Publishing again. “This was where hard work from an early age and a strong work ethic paid off!” Guy says.


After her freshman year at Copiah-Lincoln, Loura worked at Glorietta Baptist Camp in New Mexico for the summer. The following summer, she worked for her dad in Stigler, Oklahoma. When she returned to Delta State, she worked as secretary in Coach Dave “Boo” Ferris, the Athletic Director there.

ESTABLISHING TEAM BARR
During their senior year as Delta State, Guy and Loura met again entirely by chance in the cafeteria. That morning, Guy told Loura that he was going home to Magee and asked if she might like to ride with him. She remembers with delight the look on his face when she said that she thought she would. Guy seemed at a loss for words, so Loura quickly added that she could visit her grandparents and get some of her things from them. The next Saturday, Guy took her to a football game at Copiah-Lincoln which — according to Loura — “turned a few heads among those who had known us”.


Guy says that it didn’t take long for him to realize that she was “the one” – and a homemade chocolate cake helped seal the deal. “She spent all day at a friend’s home making me a German Chocolate cake,” Guy remembers. “I brought it back to the dorm and hardly got a piece. Two of the players told me that if I didn’t marry her, they would!”


They dated for three months and over Thanksgiving, Guy went with Loura to her cousin’s wedding (Loura was a bridesmaid). He asked her to marry him that same Saturday. At Christmas, Guy put her on the train to go home to Oklahoma to her parents, and then came up after the holidays to drive her back to Delta State. Ever the gentleman, Guy asked Loura’s father for permission to marry and then gave her an engagement ring.


They set their wedding date for Good Friday (March 27, 1964) to take advantage of the Easter holiday. Loura was going to graduate in May, but Guy still had to take several classes that summer because of missing a semester with back surgery. Team Barr began their married life together at a friend’s cabin in the woods between Pineville and Leesville. “It was free, we were poor, but we were very happy,” Loura says.


One of their favorite memories about that first summer as a married couple involved Loura having to teach Guy how to float in a pool. She was working in the AD office, but every evening after dinner they went to the campus pool for Guy to practice floating. Loura says that after eating at the training table, Guy was “dead weight.” To pass his swimming class, Guy had not only to swim, but also to float for 5 minutes. “We lived in a one-bedroom apartment 2 blocks from campus with no air conditioning, so a dip in the pool was refreshing,” Loura explains. “Oh, and he did pass!”

CAREER AND FAMILY
Just one year after that chance reunion in the Delta State cafeteria, the newlyweds packed up and moved to Hazlehurst for their first teaching jobs. Loura started unpacking boxes and Guy went to the football field. She was Guy’s top supporter and sounding board during those coaching years, and she was astute enough to know when he didn’t want her opinion. “We came as a team,” Loura says. “The year he coached football, girls’ basketball, spring football and track, and was summer baseball coordinator for youth baseball, those bleachers got hard!”


Guy and Loura pursued their teaching careers, moving 5 times. Loura’s favorite memory as a teacher was the arts and crafts class for 8th grade boys at Judice Middle School in Duson, Louisiana. The class was made up of all boys, all athletes. She taught them how to cross stitch, do crewel, and needlepoint. “They were so proud to show their work at a PTA meeting,” Loura says. “The largest football player in the class admitted to me one day that threading the needle made him nervous. I always did it for him after that.”


Team Barr learned valuable lessons from their teaching and coaching days, lessons that would serve them well when they embarked on their next adventure together – the insurance business. Guy took a job in Lafayette, Louisiana, with a life insurance company, and after a year was given the opportunity to start his own agency for State Farm in Baton Rouge where he knew no one and had to go door-to-door to get clients. Loura began working in Guy’s office as secretary and developed a deep understanding of the insurance business. This was to be invaluable to them both as Guy was promoted up through the ranks. “Working together taught us how important each of our opinions were and that it’s okay to disagree,” Guy says.


In 1974, Guy Barr III (Trey) was born. Like his parents, Trey loved sports and played soccer, tennis, ice hockey, football, basketball, and ran track. Also like his parents, his career goal was to become a teacher and a coach. Trey graduated from Ouachita Baptist University on a tennis scholarship and then earned a Masters from the University of Southern Mississippi. Today he is a successful teacher and coach at Marshall Christian Academy in Marshall, Texas, and is married to another teacher, Melissa. Together they have three children – Elias, Nehemiah, and Bethany.

LIKE A GOOD NEIGHBOR
Guy’s career with State Farm proved to be a great fit for both Team Barr and State Farm. In 1977, the Barrs moved to Monroe when Guy was named Agency Director in the Mid-South Office. In 1978, Guy bought a plane, learned to fly, and earned his pilot’s license (with instrument rating). Loura earned hers in 1983. The plane gave them a way to fly around the country and save more time for family. In 1981, they moved to Bloomington, Illinois, when he was promoted to Corporate Headquarters there. In 1985, they returned to Monroe when Guy became Deputy Regional VP in Mid-South. Seven years later, Guy was named Mid-South’s Regional VP, the position he held when he retired in 2001 ending a 30-year career with that company.


Fortunately for Monroe and Louisiana, Team Barr decided to make Monroe their permanent home. Just like with everything else that they were involved with, Guy and Loura’s support for Monroe was wholehearted and became even more so after retirement. Guy ran for mayor, but didn’t prevail. Ever optimistic, his reaction to that loss was that it was “character building.” The two have always been active volunteers wherever they lived, and have always made a difference – often quietly. One would be hard-pressed to name one area in which they have not worked together to help individuals, their church, and their community.


The two even pedaled their support for Monroe from 2008-2014, riding in MASS (Monroe Advocates for Safe Streets formed by Rotarian brother Miles Luke) fundraisers over 2-week periods annually. In 2014, Loura clocked 600 miles and Guy rode 530. They had biked previously in Germany and Vermont, so knew “the drill.” Their rides helped pay for bike racks all over Monroe.


Faith has always been a centerpiece in their lives, and they have instilled that in their son. When he was young, Trey joined his parents on many volunteer efforts. A favorite was serving Thanksgiving dinner to those less fortunate. When Family Promise came to the community 12 years ago, Team Barr helped paint and set up two separate day-centers. Over the past decade, Loura has volunteered at the Thrift Store once a week. “You find out how blessed you are when you meet some of these families who have faced homelessness through no fault of their own,” Loura says.


Countless non-profits, charitable groups, and community business organizations have benefited from their support. Each has served as officer and board member of many, bringing to all both strong communication and organizational skills as well as that good old common sense that comes from decades of experience working with people and seeing no boundaries based on race, religion, or politics. In 1998, Loura served as Louisiana State President of P.E.O. after serving six years as a member of the State Executive Committee. In 2003, Guy received the prestigious Rambin Silverstein Award from the Monroe Chamber of Commerce; in 2009 he received the Lillie “Granny” Goins Community Service Award; and in 2018 he and Loura were the joint recipients of the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s coveted Golden Arrow award.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR TEAM BARR
After nearly six decades of “doing,” Guy and Loura are enjoying a slower pace. Health issues have presented challenges — Guy lost hearing in one ear four years ago from shingles, and that college back injury continues to be problematic. Still the two are living full lives, albeit more restricted now with the pandemic. For “people” people like the Barrs, it has been difficult not to be with their friends, attend gatherings, or be as active as they were.


One way they spend their time these days is being thankful for the life together that they have been given. They have seen much of the world, although Australia remains on Guy’s bucket list. Among Loura’s favorite travel memories is staying in Venice, catching the Orient Express to Paris, and then taking the ferry over very choppy waters crossing the English Channel to London. “The longest 90 minutes of my life,” she says.


They also continue to encourage the next generation of leaders as they begin their career and volunteer journeys. Both are always willing to find time to help someone just starting out, or embracing a new challenge. For Team Barr, their sincerest prayers go to the new leaders who are working together to help Monroe realize its true potential as one city — whole and united for the public good, without a distinction between north and south.