The Unforgettable Dugan Barr: Wise & Wonderful, a Walking Contradiction

Dugan Barr was a wise and wonderful walking contradiction. His presence could command a room, yet in many social gatherings he was a man of few words, sitting or standing with a drink in his hand, a bemused smile on his face, taking in the scene, or with his head cocked, listening to someone speaking as his eyes swept the room.

Sometimes, I almost thought of him as shy, yet that’s impossible, as he tried hundreds of cases in his 52-year career, and could literally hold court and maintain the rapt attention of everyone, from jurors to judges.

I thought I knew Dugan, but I learned a few things about him after reading his obituary, beautifully written by his family and published here on ANC. I knew Dugan was a liberal thinker. I did not know he was an accomplished sharp-shooter at NRA competitions. I knew his name was Dugan. I didn’t know it was John Douglas.

I knew him as a bear of a man who spoke softly but bluntly, a man with a tender heart that compelled him to contribute to all kinds of needs and causes, even if they seemed dubious; even if they looked like potential lost causes.

One such cause was a News Cafe.com. In 2007, after my newspaper career tanked, Barr and Mudford agreed to be one of my first advertisers. Their endorsement of ANC bestowed instant credibility by one of the most well-known and respected law firms, famous for such cases as the RMC lawsuit. That paved the way for other advertisers, who figured if ANC was good enough for Barr and Mudford, it was good enough for them.

Dugan didn’t ask much about the particulars of the site, such as how it would operate, what it would contain, or even if it was a good idea. Had he asked me any of those questions, I would have admitted that I had no clue, and maybe it wasn’t a good idea after all. Honestly, I think he and Doug Mudford agreed to advertise, not because they necessarily thought ANC was a particularly stellar business model, but because they felt sorry for me.

The Barr and Mudford ad has been up ever since, never changing, all these years. In fact, Barr and Mudford has the distinction of having the longest-running ad on ANC. Over the years we asked if Barr & Mudford wanted an ad update. They always said no, they were fine with that original ad.

I am forever grateful (and surprised) that Dugan believed in me and ANC, even before I believed in myself or my ability to keep this site going.

As time went on, Dugan sometimes submitted opinion columns that we’d publish here on ANC, pieces that were witty, pointed, smart and controversial but always thought-provoking. (You can read some of them here.)

He wrote his own headlines, and this list gives you an idea of his range of topics:

• The pay cut you don’t know about

• Cons outweigh pros of north state inmate proposals

• Please, vote against the Pauline-Wally-doodle all the day!

• Why Obama can’t pick Clinton

• How to get a rest from the rest of campaign season

• Refusing to talk honestly about health care

• Why California is broke

• Is Trump the answer? It depends upon the question

• On outsourcing Redding services

• Why big drug companies are sitting pretty

• Let’s call this the year of living intelligently

• The cost of war (two parts)

• California legislature (two parts)

• Why can’t I find a lawyer to represent my medical malpractice case (two parts)

• Prop 16 pays off for PG&E, not voters

• The ACLU and Tea Party on the same side?

• Americans are ticked off, with good reason

• Guns, schools, hysteria and the NRA

• Titanic stupidity

• Where’s our compassion for women and children?

Dugan was a prolific writer, deep thinker and gifted debater. For a time he participated in a point-counter-point radio show, a format that displayed his propensity for and enjoyment of intellectual sparring.

My second-hand history with Dugan goes even further back, connected through my father, a Redding radio personality who was older than Dugan, but the two were poker buddies, along with a bunch of other Redding guys. Man, what I wouldn’t give to have been a fly on the wall for one of those games.

Later, I became acquainted with Dugan through his wife Terry, who I met through Carter House Science Museum fundraisers many decades ago. Together, Dugan and Terry were a dynamic duo who quietly gave to this community without ever seeking attention or recognition for their philanthropy.

In 2014, Dugan and Terry Barr were presented with the prestigious and much- deserved Past Mayor’s Philanthropic Achievement Award for their extensive charitable work and contributions to the Redding community. You can read the partial list of accomplishments in his obituary, but there were literally countless acts of kindness and compassion that Dugan demonstrated throughout his life.

Redding Major Rick Bosetti congratulates Dugan and Terry Barr, recipients of the Past Mayors’ Philanthropic Award.

As a lawyer, Dugan was the champion of the underdog, often waiving payment, or accepting trades for things he really didn’t need, so the client could save face. I remember once seeing some bizarre paintings in a closet of the Barr home, and when I asked about it, I learned that Dugan had accepted the art in lieu of payment. The art wasn’t something Dugan wanted to hang on his walls, but he didn’t feel right getting rid of it, either. Those were gifts that had value to those who’d given them to Dugan, and that meant something to Dugan.

He gave so much, and asked for little. I’d hear stories over the years from recipients of Dugan’s generosity; people who’d been given employment, or a place to stay, or legal counsel, or food, or money.

I was one of those recipients. After my 2010 divorce, Terry Barr, my sister and I were looking at a little house in the Garden Tract that I wanted to buy, which looked like it might sell fast, but my part of the Igo home buy-out from my ex-husband was still tied up and pending. What others may have seen as unattractive, I saw as a mid-Century modern home loaded with potential.

Doni’s Garden Tract home in 2010, pre-remodel.

Terry contacted Dugan, and the Barrs wrote me a check me so I could buy that house, so I wouldn’t lose it. See that house? Dugan had every right to take one look at that little pink structure and pronounce it a bad investment. He didn’t do that. In fact, I’m not even sure he saw the house before he wrote the check. Of course, I paid them back the moment my money came through from my former house. But still, who DOES that? Dugan, that’s who.

I remodeled the house and seven years later sold it for a profit, none of which would have been possible but for the kindness of Dugan Barr.

My story is typical, and I have no doubt that when it comes time for Dugan’s celebration of life after the holidays, I will meet scores of people just like me, with stories similar to mine.

Dugan was a multi-faceted man with many interests, including food, wine and cooking. He shared with me his tip for perfectly prepared steak over a gas stove: Use a heavy-bottomed deep pot as a griddle, preventing all the messy splatter that would happen with a steak in a big frying pan. He was an excellent, fearless cook whose culinary style reflected his booming personality: big meats; thick bread with loads of garlic and butter. Big bowls. Huge platters. Massive colorful salads. Lots of wine.

He was a supreme host, graciously offering guests the first drink upon their arrival, and after that, he pointed toward the beverages, and explained that he expected guests to help themselves. In a way, that was much how he treated people and relationships: give help them in the beginning, but then step back and count on people to carry on without him.

It’s an understatement to say Dugan loved music, or that he loved to sing. He had a full-gusto style that was exuberant and joyful: part shouting, part laughing, part singing; foot-stomping, head-shaking, guitar-string-plucking and strumming; quickly changing out instruments for different songs. I heard him play in his home, and in others’ homes where like-minded musicians crammed inside living rooms with sheet music and overhead projectors so everyone could read the words. I heard him play once at Shameless O’Leery’s, where the place was packed with family and friends.

When I think of Dugan looking the most uninhibited and joyful; the most relaxed and the most in his element, I think of those musical times; his head lifted high, eyes squeezed shut, singing his heart out.

But when I think of the softest side of Dugan, his most tender and vulnerable, I think about how he was with his wife and children, who he adored, even more than music or his law practice.

His passing has left a profound void in this community, and in the lives of those who loved and admired him. The only consolation is that we who knew him had so many opportunities to learn the art of giving and living large.

He leaves behind his legacy of love and law, and the many worthy causes and  programs and cultural treasures that benefited because of him and his generosity.

Most of all, he leaves a greater legacy:  his wife, his children, and now, his grandchildren, all of whom will carry part of Dugan Barr inside them.

To Dugan’s family, colleagues and friends, I extend my deepest sympathy for the loss of this man who played such a crucial part in so many of our lives.

Rest in peace, Dugan.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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