Barney Klehman, my friend of more than 30 years, died at his home sometime during the weekend. His office called to tell me. I was working outside when the call came. I knew something was wrong when I saw the look on my wife’s face as she came out to get me. She said Barney’s office had called with news. I was apprehensive when I went to the phone, because I was always worried about Barney’s health. I felt two ways when I was told: like a ton of bricks had fallen on me and suddenly empty inside. I kept thinking: You mean, I won’t see him again? Not ever again? Barney?
We’d had dinner in Arlington, Virginia with two other old friends the week before, and the week before that he and I had dined in Huntsville, Alabama. It didn’t seem possible. It didn’t compute. But I knew it was true. I had worried about the possibility of just this.
Barney had a close circle of intimate friends who had all worked together for the Air Force in El Segundo, California, at the Space & Missile Systems Organization (SAMSO), since the 1970s. I met him one summer when we both played on the contracting office softball team. He played softball the same way that he worked: passionately, with knowledge and skill, and with an it ain’t over ‘till it’s over commitment to success.
That commitment took him a long way. He started out working for the old Defense Contract Administration Service in Pasadena, California. Then went to SAMSO in the Air Force Systems Command. When he died he was an SES, Director of Acquisition for the Missile Defense Agency. In the course of his long career he worked on many programs and trained and mentored a lot of young contracting folks. You were very lucky if you got to work for Barney Klehman, because he cared about you and was devoted to your education and development. In return, you had to show that you cared, because Barney didn’t have much use for people who do not care and will not strive.
Even though we were both very opinionated and passionate about our work, I don’t recall us ever being angry at each other, although we sometimes did disagree. Many a disagreement ended with one of us saying, Hmm, I hadn't thought of that, or Yeah, okay, that’s right. You’re right. But we didn’t talk just work. We also talked sports (he knew a lot more than I) and life.
Barney had one fault that bothered all of his friends: He took better care of other people and of his work than he did of himself, which is why I worried about him. He did not take care of his health. Everybody complained to him about it and he always agreed, but he didn’t follow through. When I called one old friend to give him the news, he was shocked, I can’t believe this! and then furious, Blank-blank it! He didn’t take care of himself! We told him he had to take better care of himself!
Telephone calls throughout the day. Emails late into the night. Expressions of shock and grief. One friend sent us an email with photos of Barney through the years. I was glad to get those photos. They break my heart, but I can't stop looking at them.
The notice sent out by Vice Admiral Syring, Director of the Missile Defense Agency, said:
Yes, that’s true. But what will stick with me is this one, that came in an email yesterday from a woman who had worked for him: “Barney was one of the kindest men I’ve ever known.”
There it is. One of the truest and best epitaphs I’ve ever read. That was Barney.
He was what the Irish call a darlin’ man.
Amicus vitae solatium. Amicus animae dimidium.