Liked and respected on both sides of the aisle, former Congressman Doug Barnard was also a generous mentor who did much for Augusta, friends remembered Friday.
Barnard died Thursday after a period of declining health. He was 95.
A Democrat throughout his congressional career, Barnard was the first U.S. Congressman from Augusta in 72 years when he beat Mike Padgett for the post in 1977. He served eight terms before retiring in 1993.
Retired Chief Superior Court Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet, a longtime friend who managed Barnard’s early campaigns, recalled Barnard’s key opposition – including the powerful Augusta politician Roy Harris, Padgett and Bernard Miles - embracing him after a hard-fought campaign.
“When we walked into the room with all of those men, Roy Harris stood up and said, ‘Here’s my congressman,’” Overstreet said. “Everybody liked Doug and trusted him because they knew he would treat them fairly.”
One of Barnard’s campaign slogans was that he’d traveled thousands of miles and met thousands of people – so he knew voters’ needs and desires and would deliver them from Washington, Overstreet said.
A lawyer and banker, Barnard became the most respected member of Congress on banking and financial regulatory matters, said Augusta attorney David Bell, another lifelong friend who managed Barnard’s campaigns.
“All members of the House and Senate looked to him for guidance, information and understanding,” Bell said.
His biggest contribution, however, was likely his encouragement for others, Bell said.
“The thing I think of the most was how Doug Barnard was kind to everybody,” he said. “He encouraged and served as a role model to hundreds and hundreds of people.”
Among them was former Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver. “Doug was the first person to write a letter on my behalf when I announced my candidacy for mayor in 2005,” Copenhaver said. “I know his unwavering support undoubtedly had an impact on the outcome of the election.”
Barnard successfully secured funding for several needed projects around downtown Augusta, including the Walton Way and 15th Street railroad overpasses that stopped trains from blocking ambulances from reaching downtown hospitals, Bell said.
He pushed through federal legislation undoing a 19th-century law to allow the Savannah River levee to be breached in 1986, making Riverwalk Augusta possible, and secured funds for the extension of St. Sebastian Way.
Barnard also enjoyed wide support from Republicans. Columbia County voters supported him two-to-one over Republican opponents.
“He worked across the aisle. His best friends were Democrats; his best friends were Republicans,” Bell said. “Doug was good at dealing with people. He liked everybody and everybody that met Doug liked him. His office was to serve his constituents and whoever walked in the door got gold-plated treatment.”
Barnard’s 16-year congressional career spanned three presidencies – Carter, Reagan and Bush – and ended as Clinton was taking office.
He was one of eight founders of the Conservative Democratic Forum, known as the “Boll Weevils” in the early 1980s that forged a working relationship with Republicans. He never apologized for his political leanings, but resisted GOP efforts to convert him, according to a 1993 Augusta Chronicle interview.
Retiring that year under an older campaign finance law, Barnard was allowed to keep leftover campaign funds, some $258,817, but gave much of it away.
In the early 1990s, Barnard was coming up on the end of Democratic control of Georgia, said local Republican party stalwart Dave Barbee.
“The tide was turning,” but still the likeable Democrat had much to offer, even to Republicans, Barbee said.
“I enjoyed every conversation I had with Doug Barnard; you always got some wisdom from him,” he said. “That’s hard for a Republican to say. He will sorely be missed.”
Barnard’s first wife, Naomi Holt “Nopi” Bernard, died in 1994. He is survived by his wife, Betty Blanchard Barnard, three children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Funeral services are set for 3 p.m. Monday at First Baptist Church.