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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Resembling the phoenix

By Ana Breton

Dave Baldridge searched inside his T-shirt for one of the few tangible things his friend had left him. A gold medallion of a phoenix on a chain around his neck sparkled in the light. His friend and college roommate at the U, Richard Barnum-Reece, had welded it for him. In a way, Barnum-Reece was much like the mythological creature, rising from the ashes, always coming back.

“He took the phoenix very seriously,” Baldridge said.

He spoke slowly, looking down and carefully rubbing the medallion during a memorial service for Barnum-Reece at the Alumni House on Saturday.

“His life most closely resembled the one of a phoenix out of anyone I knew,” he said. “You wouldn’t know it if you saw him, but like the phoenix, he will rise again.”

And there is no reason he won’t. After all, Barnum-Reece had risen in the past — not exactly from ashes, but from defeat.

Steve Cotterell remembers the time Barnum-Reece collapsed while playing tennis the day before going on a trip with his wife at the time. Barnum-Reece went to the hospital, but after becoming impatient, he pulled the IV cables from his body and left the hospital. He left on his trip the next day.

A couple of years later, he did it again.

Sometime during the 2006 Scofield Triathlon, he suffered a heart attack, and while lying facedown in the water, he also suffered a severe amount of brain damage.

His heart stopped.

Like a true phoenix, Barnum-Reece rose again, revived by paramedics. But the man who was known as being blunt, free-spirited and non-conformist didn’t fully recover.

“The last 18 months, he wasn’t a fraction of what he was,” said Brent Barnum, a retired real estate agent and Barnum-Reece’s younger brother.

On Jan. 29, Barnum-Reece died after complications of the heart attack. He was 62.

“He woke up that day and said ‘I’m going to die today,'” Barnum said. It was surprising because it was one of the few things Barnum-Reece actually planned. The rest of his life seemed to be composed of sporadic adventures no one could predict — unless you were coming with him.

His son, Robert Barnum-Reece, remembers the day his father picked him up in Chicago when he was 10 and living with his mom. They drove across the country, visiting every Hall of Fame — including the museums — for baseball, basketball and football.

“We would have hit hockey, but we didn’t want to go to Canada,” said Robert Barnum-Reece, 21, who is now a student at the University of Washington.

During their trip, their car broke down four times in two days. Richard Barnum-Reece fixed the engine with duct tape and a hanger. Several years later, the father and son went on two 800-mile bicycles trips through Utah and Wyoming, forgetting to bring water.

“We had to beg Peruvian shepherds to get some (water),” said Robert Barnum-Reece, who learned Spanish in high school.

His father, on the other hand, said he learned Spanish when he was a ski instructor in Chile, but Robert Barnum-Reece wasn’t sure.

After all, Robert Barnum-Reece was having a hard time taking in all the stories his extended family members and the long-time friends of his dad shared during his father’s memorial service.

Many of the people in the room didn’t know each other. Richard Barnum-Reece’s daughter and son, from two different marriages, met for the first time. Neither knew all the sides to their father. He was a political science and journalism graduate at the U, editor of the university’s magazine and sports editor at The Daily Utah Chronicle in the late 1970s.

“He was like a brother. You would just talk to him and smile,” said Mary Dickson, who worked with Richard Barnum-Reece at The Chronicle and is now an associate director at KUED. “But he had a complicated tough side. He was notorious for picking up tables and throwing them at parties.”

He didn’t change much after he graduated cum laude.

“He could wait for anyone,” said John Pease, who played with Richard Barnum-Reece on the U’s football team and is also a retired NFL coach.

He got a law degree. He was a news reporter for KSL Ch. 5. He worked for more than a dozen publications in Utah and nearby states. Sometimes he would use pen names. On other occasions, he would quote his friends without ever interviewing them.

“He had a little bit of trouble with authority,” Cotterell said.

But he wouldn’t work long. He hated meetings and any type of establishment. He started his own publication, Utah Runner and Cyclist Magazine, and published several books about journalism and poetry.

At one point Richard Barnum-Reece did some modeling work, his son said.

Then came crazier stories, like how the “street-smart Utah misfit,” as Baldridge called him, would steal bicycles and get into fist fights. One time, he flipped a Jeep during a last-minute trip to pick up his friend from Nevada. On another occasion, he threw a refrigerator down Elizabeth Street.

“He was mostly crazy, but happy to be who he was,” Robert Barnum-Reece said. “That’s not a bad thing.”

Brent Barnum remembered one time when Richard Barnum-Reece came running through the newspaper office with a tennis racket. Right after he jumped out a window, three cops entered the room looking for him.

“Apparently he beat up a couple of guys with the tennis racket,” Brent Barnum said. “He was a strong guy who got in fights all the time.”

He traveled extensively through Central and South America. He visited and lived in Europe, Africa and Asia. He was practical and economical, and most of the time, he was backpacking and hitchhiking through countries without a cent in his pocket.

“He could not afford to fly places, so I learned from him that you can walk anywhere,” Baldridge said.

One summer, Barnum-Reece and Baldridge hitchhicked to Mexico City, went to Panama City, later got lost and ended up witnessing a Cuna Indian puberty ceremony.

Before his heart attack, he backpacked through India for six months.

“He had wild adventures, but they were not thoughtless, careless adventures of youth,” Baldridge said. “We discussed them deeply. He was more than just a crazy, drunk, tough guy.”

During the memorial service, Baldridge left a letter on a table at the memorial service with details about their adventures together and poems about Richard Barnum-Reece, whose body was donated to the U Medical School for research. Afterward, the ashes will be cremated and spread by his family that hopes they will rise like the phoenix.

Baldridge wrote in the letter, “There’s an Ani DiFranco song that says, ‘God help you if you are a Phoenix./ And you dare rise up from the ash./ A thousand eyes will smolder with jealousy/ While you’re just flying back.'”

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