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David Jordan Barnett
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Obituary for David Jordan Barnett

Durham: David Jordan Barnett, age 63, died in his sleep at his home from complications of adrenal carcinoma on Tuesday, August 7, 2018. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama to the late Frank W. Barnett III and the surviving Jane Jordan Hill, of Durham. He is also survived by his younger sisters, Ruth Crowell Buxbaum of St. Petersburg Beach, FL and Lynn Hill Spragens of Durham, NC, as well as his aunts Carolyn Schmitz of San Marcos, CA and Diana Stewart of Dayton, Ohio, his cousins Hillary, Lynn, and Diana, and nieces and nephews John, Molly, Kimberly, Jackie, Stephen, and Taylor and by his group home housemates and friends, Willie, Elijah, and Maceo and the compassionate managers of Maggie’s Helping Hands Assisted Living, Terry Chalmers and Jamal Leathers, as well as the staff and members of the Threshold Clubhouse.

David lived in Talladega, Alabama until he was 11, then moved with his family to New Orleans. He had a love of music, teaching himself to play the guitar and building his own amplifier and shortwave radio from kits before he was 14. One of the highlights of his early life was attending a live Jimi Hendrix concert in City Park Stadium in New Orleans (with his mom!) in 1968 when he was 13. The lyrics to Wild Thing became David’s anthem. Showing creativity if not judgment, at age 14 David successfully hitchhiked from New Orleans to Woodstock, NY in August 1969 to try and attend the music festival. Somewhat unfortunately he got arrested for sleeping on a library lawn and missed the concert by a few days.

He struggled with mental illness and addiction from adolescence onward and went through his teenage years buffeted by chaos internally and externally. David was vehement in demanding personal autonomy from “the system” (institutions, family, rules…whatever constrained him) and had a tough and independent spirit.

At 19, David “hit the road” and hit the streets first in New Orleans, then across the country, from Phoenix to San Francisco to Los Angeles. This might best be called David’s “Like a Rolling Stone” (Bob Dylan) period. “…How does it feel, how does it feel? To be without a home, Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone…” He had a lot of adventures which he enjoyed recounting later, learned a lot about the essentials of life and lived on the edge and on the outskirts of “the system" for about 20 years before finally acknowledging health issues and settling in a group home in south central Los Angeles in the early/mid 1990s. After several years David was withdrawn and very ill – he had been hospitalized about a dozen times in one year and experts thought he would die within the year. Again, David defied the odds.

In 2000 his Durham family orchestrated a move to Durham and into a group home here. Somehow, through a lot of TLC from many folks, David re-emerged, regained health, and reconnected. The Threshold Clubhouse was a cornerstone to this. For 18 years, the wonderful staff and fellow travelers (members) have anchored David with purpose, pride, and friendships. He was able to see his mother regularly and his sister Lynn’s family (husband Tom, children Jackie, Stephen, and Taylor) welcomed David without a blink. Finally, David had another guitar and nephews who could jam out to Jimi Hendrix songs with him!

David continued to struggle and to test the patience of many, but he could radiate love, warmth, forgiveness, humor, faith, and wisdom if you listened carefully. We will all miss him.

David has received support and nurture from church families, including New Hope Presbyterian Church in Orange County, his excellent primary care team at Lincoln Community Health Center, and from many unnamed social workers, Durham Public Library staff, and public servants, including various police officers who do hard work interacting with people in crisis. David’s family thanks all of you for the work you do, and the differences you make that may go unseen.

Ironically, David’s death was due to random bad genetic luck with a rare cancer, rather than as a consequence of hard living. Thankfully, he had a good last year, dying 1 day before the anniversary of his diagnosis. With support from the palliative care team at Duke’s cancer center and remarkable efforts of his group home family, he died peacefully, having had dinner out with his mom and sister a week earlier. In the words of a song made famous by Leonard Cohen “Well I’ve heard there was a secret chord that David played, and it pleased the Lord…Hallelujah!” He held on to his independence to the end.

A memorial service will be held in the fall.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial donations be made to the Threshold Clubhouse, http://www.thresholdclubhouse.org/our-programs/ a non-profit organization serving adults with severe and persistent mental illness in Durham, and affiliated with the international clubhouse model https://clubhouse-intl.org/what-we-do/what-clubhouses-do/ The first clubhouse was Fountain House, started by individuals released from inpatient psychiatric facilities in New York City in 1948.

The family is being assisted by Clements Funeral and Cremation Services, Inc. in Durham. Online condolences may be sent to www.clementsfuneralservice.com


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