Ask people about Charles Barfield, and you’ll see some common attributes pop up — knowledgable, level-headed, respected, civil-service minded, helpful, personable, light-hearted, loved to laugh, gentleman, great integrity, public servant, great friend, hard worker, rock steady, quick with a kind and encouraging word, great example.
Barfield passed away on July 7, eight days after turning 86.
While Barfield worked as a mason and at Missouri Portland/Lafarge Corporation, it’s perhaps his some 44 years serving the community he called home that he was known for.
“He was a very civil-minded service individual, and that’s the way he lived his life,” said Don W. Smith, of Metropolis.
Barfield began on the board of education of Metropolis City Schools in the early 1970s, serving 28 years as it evolved into Massac Unit 1.
“I was blessed to have a number of great board members, and he was one of them,” said Smith, who served as Massac Unit 1 superintendent.
Barfield was on the board that hired Smith when he returned to Metropolis after serving seven years as principal at Beardstown, Illinois. A year later, the board voted on the consolidation of the Metropolis and Brookport school districts, creating Massac Unit 1 on July 1, 1977, and Massac County High School four years later. Smith was hired as Unit 1’s assistant superintendent, a position he held for five years before becoming the superintendent for the next 15. The two worked together for 20 years, and Barfield was board president for much of that time.
“He was very knowledgable,” Smith said. “He didn’t overreact to what some people would think as a crisis. He was very level-headed. He was very conservative, as most of the board was. He was convinced we were not going to waste taxpayer dollars and stay within budget, and we did for all those years. There was not animosities on the board at that time. It was a relaxed atmosphere, and he led the way in that. He was well respected, very well respected. I respected him.”
Smith said Barfield regularly attended Illinois State Board of Education meetings “to better himself at the state level.” Smith nominated him for the ISBE board president. “He came in second. I thought he should’ve been No. 1,” he said.
While Barfield was on the school board, Dr. Sharon Burris held the titles of curriculum director, director of educational services, assistant superintendent and superintendent. She remembers Barfield as “a board member who tried to do what was best for students, staff and the community at large. He worked at doing that. And he did.”
Rick Abell worked with Barfield for some 30 years — 10 years as the attorney for Unit 1 and 16 as City of Metropolis corporate counsel.
“No matter the role he played, Mr. Barfield was always the consummate gentleman and professional, quick with a kind word or message of encouragement, yet always rock steady and principled in service,” Abell said. “While he had a great understanding of both the business and technical matters we worked on, he always seemed guided by an even stronger moral compass. As a consequence, he never shied from difficult decisions, but was the voice that the rest of us looked to for guidance and direction. In all things though, he put the people we served first — whether it was the children of the school district or the citizens and taxpayers. He was the model of a true ‘servant leader.’ ”
Barfield was elected to the Metropolis City Council as alderman of Ward 4 in 2003. He served four terms, choosing not run for re-election in 2019. He served on several of the council’s committees during those years, being chairman of the Finance Committee, the Insurance Committee, and the Water, Street & Light committee for several years.
For many of those years on the city council, Barfield sat across the table from Ward 2 alderman Bill Carrell, who described him as “a very good person and hard worker.”
Billy McDaniel served with Barfield as an alderman prior to being elected Metropolis mayor.
“Charlie was a true gentleman, a man of great integrity and was truly a public servant for many, many, many years for the City of Metropolis and the citizens of Massac County,” McDaniel said. “He was a great friend to me, always willing to discuss things in a good, friendly manner. No matter whether we agreed or disagreed, we always came to a mutual agreement we could all live with. He was a very, very, very, very nice gentleman. He will be greatly missed.”
Current Metropolis Mayor Don Canada served as Ward 2 alderman during Barfield’s final term, from 2015-19.
“Mr. Barfield was the first council member to congratulate me and offer his assistance if I had any questions,” Canada said. “One of the things I remember that Mr. Barfield taught me was to always be fair and consistent. We did not always agree on everything, but I did go to him for his opinion on certain matters. I would then take his opinion versus my thoughts on the subject to try and make sure I could come to the best possible answer. Mr. Barfield was respected, and he has been missed at the council meetings since his retirement in 2019.”
Ward 4 alderman Chad Lewis sat next to Barfield during his first term, which was Barfield’s last.
“Without hesitation, he was always helpful in sharing his knowledge regarding the operation of the city. If a question or topic came up that I wasn’t familiar with, I knew that I could always call Charles, as he always offered his guidance and help,” said Lewis, who has known the Barfield family for “quite some time. He was always so personable, light-hearted and loved to laugh. I will forever be grateful for Charles and the impact he had on the community for so many years in so many aspects.”
When Barfield chose not to run in 2019, Jeremy Holley won his seat.
“I never worked him Mr. Barfield directly, but he signed my petition to run for his seat. I went over to his house and talked with both he and Sue for quite a while. He spoke to about the many ups and downs during his career as an elected official,” Holley said. “Mr. Barfield was a dedicated public servant, a true gentleman and a great example of how to live and treat others.”
Barfield grew up in Metropolis, attending Metropolis City Schools, graduating from Metropolis Community High School in 1953. He served in the Army from 1958-60. Three years later, he married Sue Ann Taylor, of Metropolis; they had two daughters, Susan and Sharlin.
“He loved his family,” Smith said. “He was just a good man.”
Abell agreed. “He loved to share stories of his daughters and grandkids,” noting that Barfield “always stopped and asked me about my family, no matter where we ran into each other. He wanted to hear about Pris and the kids. In later years, he frequently emailed me just to check in and see how I was doing.”
Barfield’s affiliation with the Abell family goes back many years.
“Mr. Barfield graduated from Metropolis High
School the same year my dad (Harry Abell) graduated from Brookport High School. They had known each other and played sports against each other as young men and had a lot of mutual friends. He also would often share stories about my dad,” Abell said. “My dad was an educator and greatly admired Mr. Barfield and recommended him to me as someone to listen to on matters before the school board — in addition to Mr. Smith, who was a lifelong friend. Mr. Barfield was much more than just a board member or mentor or professional colleague, he was a dear friend. We will miss him.”