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Thomas A. Barnett

Thomas A. Barnett, 38, 'the sparkle in our family'

In almost every photograph of Thomas A. Barnett scattered throughout his parents' living room in West Greenwich, he is goofing around, placing two small green apples in front of his eyes or screwing up his mouth in a silly smile.

"We could never get him to pose for a regular picture," said his sister, Gerry L. Childers, of Hawaii. "Tommy was the sparkle in our family."

He was 15 years younger than Gerry, 16 years younger than his brother, Ray I. Barnett Jr. of Coventry, and 17 years younger than his eldest sister, Marjorie A. Farrell of Plainfield, Conn. The family doted on Tom and adopted his baby words into their vocabulary. They still call soda dub-da, as Tom pronounced it as a toddler.

"He was a bonus," Marjorie said. "We used to say it must have been a little tough for him, having three moms and two dads."

He treated nephews just a few years younger than him like brothers, and showered his family with love and Christmas presents each year.

His family described Tom, 38, as "hard-working and hard-playing." He babied his midnight-blue Corvette convertible, was a voracious reader and worked long hours as a self-employed construction worker for 20 years. When he came through the door on Barnett Lane each night, he always had a couple of new jokes for his parents, Romelle M. (Bagshaw) and Ray I. Barnett.

Tom frequently imitated accents. Once, Marjorie called him and heard a British accent on the answering machine. So she did her accent and said some "fresh" things.

"I wondered why he never called me back, and asked him about it," Marjorie said.

"Tommy said, 'Marge, that wasn't me. I'm doing an Indian accent now.' "

Tom did not meet his daughter, Angel O. Amitrano of Coventry, until she was 9.

They grew close over the years, discovering they made the same faces, laughed at the same things, were both grumpy in the mornings.

But it was not until last December that the two said "I love you" to each other.

"I am so grateful I got a chance to say it back," said Angel, now 21. "My heart leapt. I didn't realize I'd been waiting 21 years to hear those words."

Her father, at 5-foot-11, stood seven inches taller than she, and when they hugged, her head fit perfectly under his chin.

"He gave the best hugs," she said. "The kind that just encapsulate your whole body."

Tom went to The Station that night with his girlfriend, Jessica Studley, and his best friend since kindergarten, Jason Morton.

The two men lived less than a half-mile apart along Route 102. They were regulars at the club, where they often went to hear live heavy-metal music. The two were so close that Tom had his own set of slippers at Jason's house -- gorillas that screech when you squeeze their ears.

Jessica, who was Jason's cousin, had stepped outside to grab cigarettes from her car when she saw flames shooting from the club. She didn't worry at first, the Barnetts said, because she'd left Tom and Jason by the front door.

"From the first day of kindergarten to the day they died, they've been together. That was the friendship," Tom's mother said. "I think it would have lasted if they'd lived to 80."

-- Jennifer D. Jordan, Providence Journal staff

EPILOGUE:

One week after Tom's death in the fire, Ray I. Barnett, 77, suffered a stroke and was unable to attend his son's funeral. He died one week later, as his daughter Marjorie held his hand.

Her father could not bear the pain of losing Tommy, she said. "I honestly think his heart and mind couldn't take it."


Published in The Providence Journal on Mar. 20, 2003
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