I am sad to report that my dear friend Dr. Russell Barber passed away last night from a stroke that came at the end of a drug-resistant bacterial infection he acquired while hospitalized. He was 72 years old.
Russ and I met in 1976. I was managing public relations for the noted spiritual Guru Sri Chinmoy. At the time, Russ was hosting and producing an award-winning WNBC-TV show, “The First Estate: Religion in Review.” I proposed Sri Chinmoy for the show, and met with Dr. Barber for the pre-interview. During the first show, as a way of inquiry into the affinity between teacher and student, he asked Sri Chinmoy if he could be his disciple. Dr. Barber and Sri Chinmoy became friends from that day in 1976. In fact, right after the interview, he invited the president of WNBC-TV into the studio to meet Sri Chinmoy and take photographs. We did three shows with Russell between 1976 and 1980.
After GE bought NBC-TV in the 1980’s, they downsized the non-profitable parts of the business. That included the public service and religion shows. After 17 years serving as the Religion and Ethics Editor at NBC-TV and contributing editor to the TODAY SHOW and NBC NEWS, Dr. Barber’s show was canceled and Russell retired to his homes in Connecticut and Florida. That was a tragic loss for the greater New York religious community.
Dr. Barber earned 3 Emmys and a Gabriel Award among his many honors, and he served on the Board of Advisers for the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, the world's largest monetary prize, presented each year by HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace in London. Dr. Barber was also a Knight Commander in the American Society of The Venerable Hospital Order of St. John of Jerusalem.
In 2000, Russell and I collaborated on a 60 minute taped interview with Sri Chinmoy called Millennium, which he hosted and I produced. The show explored Sri Chinmoy's views on the challenges facing humanity at the dawn of the new Millennium. The taping took place at my home in Westhampton. It was a great moment for me. On that day Sri Chinmoy also offered Russell the spiritual name, ‘Amritananda.’
Life was too short for my friend Russell. He had so many projects he still wanted to launch, and we spoke about them several weeks ago. He was managing some serious health problems, but he had taken steps to improve his health and we were both hopeful.
I shall cherish Russell’s deep spirituality and love of God. He was a good man with lofty views on the promise of people of all religions to live and thrive together harmoniously. He embraced all religions as his own. And in these trying times, when religious intolerance is the order of the day, he shall truly be missed.
He was a beloved member of the communities of Ft. Lauderdale, FL where he lived during autumn and winter, and Gig Harbor, WA where he spent summer and Fall.
May God Bless my dear friend, Amritananda Russell Barber.