John William Barrow


John William Barrow’s life began in Bayside, Queens, on May 4, 1943, the second of four children born to Robert Addison Barrow and Mildred Jentz Barrow. It ended at home on West Chop on the evening of the summer solstice, June 20, 2024. 

For many years, we witnessed our beloved John’s grace epitomized on the tennis court. He was admired for his serve and sportsmanship equally. Often the winner, he was an excellent loser. Was his underlying motivation really to get an invite to the afterparty, where his love of food was gloriously indulged? (Shrimp cocktail here on West Chop and around the Yacht Club, along with those little crab cakes and oysters). He’d been around the world on the ticket of his ace and winning grin. Doors opened at members-only clubs such as the Cumberland (Pimm’s Cup and high tea) and the 7th Regiment (martinis; gin with olives). If you could bear the lesson of being beaten by John, you would become a better player, with pleasure. 

For the past 54 years, there was nothing without Harriet. In the beginning, they took their romance to Paris and London. John mostly taught math, but was happy to take on whatever other subjects could be conveyed with a grin and “Socratic methods” at American schools abroad. In the summers between teaching gigs, the couple toured Europe, following the pro tennis circuit, where John triumphed by day and frolicked by eve. In the summer of ’74, they took a break from the circuit and gallivanted through 13 countries, some behind the iron curtain, in Calavan, their converted ambulance-cum-camper. Harriet and John discovered that little Scottsie, officially Scott Murray, born May 14 in London, slept just fine in the sink as they enjoyed the cornucopia of local shellfish along the Dalmatian coast. 

Life was grand until John woke up one morning in London and realized he’d let the Super Bowl slip by unnoticed; it was time to Americanize again. John resumed teaching in Queens, and Harriet birthed Samantha Knapp (“Mandy”) in New York City on Oct. 10, 1975. 

Now with two tots in tow, Harriet and John moved to Greenwich, Conn., where John taught at Brunswick Academy for eight years. From there, they organized ski trips for high school students — up to 80 at a time — for two weeks to Tignes/Val-d’Isère in the France Alps. (Three kinds of fondue, baguettes et Tomme de Savoir, Milka chocolate and mandarin oranges produced from his fanny pack for his children on the ski lift to salve cold, chapped faces.) They were joyfully accompanied by Harriet’s sister, Mahala (“Polly”) Bishop — the kids’ JV mom, and her husband Don, who helped “chaperone.” 

The family moved to Holden, outside Worcester, in 1984, where they spent the bulk of their family-raising years teaching and coaching, and growing zucchini, beans, and tomatoes. They spent their summers on the Vineyard — Harriet’s family was here — where John became a much-sought-after doubles partner. 

John developed an uncanny-to-the-point-of-unfair knack for finding clams at Tashmoo. But to balance this skill, he would say, “I think I may feel one over here,” leading his wife or children or nephews to the object that just felt like a rock to us, so we could come up with the prize. Our buckets would miraculously fill when we weren’t looking. His pleasure in our success exceeded his own. And of course, his gullet was miraculously deep to put them away on the shore, shucked fresh and slurped down with lemon, beer, and Cape Cod potato chips. 

After retiring to the Vineyard, Harriet and John continued to travel during the off-season, taking trips to Turkey (chocolate mousse), Jamaica (oxtail in all forms) Scotland (Oban, Laphroaig), Crete (lamb gyros and Greek salads), to name a few. Photographs of these years, taken before iPhones cameras got so good, are often blurry, out of focus, and include the elbows of strangers, but the views over cliffs and of cathedrals are stunning, the art and architecture remarkable, and their love smiles blinding. 

To this day, his grandchildren are math whizzes, having been taught by their grandpa or “Oompapah” during the pandemic. They love badminton with abandon, and bear the mark of his signature enthusiasm, sense of play, and care for others. 

Over the past five years, we learned that all that grace showcased by athleticism was really just a warm-up. ALS would strike our John, of all people, in 2019. But as the body diminished, his spirit grew in radiance. What we watched unfold was the transformation of wisdom nurtured through patient practice and diligent play into a presence of expansive grace beyond our imaginings. 

As his joy became increasingly vicarious, he watched from his favorite place on the deck beside his soulmate as his children and grandchildren played badminton or hunted for Easter eggs in a madcap scavenger hunt designed by his wife. He was grateful for everything — a book by Patrick O’Brien brought over by the library staff, undivided attention from his beloveds, clams delivered by Ray Lincoln or Danielle Ewart, lobster rolls delivered by Marc Wolf or the Pourvus, and weekly deliveries from the Scottish Bakehouse (Brazilian plates, Turkey Bacon Swiss Sandwiches and Kale). He relished the songs sung for his birthday, his son’s company watching tennis and basketball on TV, the pleasures of good stories and a game of Ruckus or backgammon with family as we drank his famous sun tea. 

He showed us how to live with humor, honesty, integrity, courage, hard work, and walloping dollops of charm. We’ll miss you. And we are grateful for the (w)hole in our hearts. We feast in your name. 

John is survived by his wife, Harriet Busselle Barrow; his children Scott (Amy) and Samantha (Daniele); three adoring grandchildren, Emmett, Rocco (“August”), and Ruby; three devoted siblings, Robert (Gerri), Doug (Diana), and Peggy (Roger); siblings-in-law,: Sam Busselle (Rebecca), and Mahala Bishop (Don). He predeceased his sister-in-law, Lucy Myers, and is remembered fondly by a host of nephews and nieces, who recall his enthusiasm, curiosity, and magnanimous warmth. 

The family is extremely grateful for the care, diligence, and touching wisdom of Jackie Giordano, the VNA, and Hospice, and Jo Anne Briggs. Without their support, we would not have been able to cherish John’s last years as deeply as we did. Thank you for giving us courage. 

The family is planning a private memorial later in July. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Island Housing Trust, P.O. Box 779, West Tisbury, MA 02575.