Joseph Sabino Mistick: R.I.P., Pamela Biggs-Barbour
Pamela Biggs-Barbour was buried last week, following a rousing “Coming Home” service at Central Baptist Church in Pittsburgh's Hill District. And things were as they should be.
It was a gloomy, rainy day. But for those who came through the cold rain for one last visit with Pam, it was a familiar path. Whenever the gloom of life struck, Pam was always the one to see, with her brilliant smile and helping hand.
And she was buried on election eve.
Pam had spent decades in public service, and her future would often rest on the events of Election Day. But, come the day before, she was always at peace, ready for the next adventure, as she was last Monday.
Like all those Americans who keep us on track, Pam's calling was to serve the public, whether it was as an administrative assistant to Pittsburgh Mayor Sophie Masloff or as a judicial secretary in the courts.
As our old friend John Seidman said last week, “Pam was a translator and guide for those who were easily discouraged by the maze of the bureaucracy.
“It is easy to forget what it is like when ordinary people come up against the opaque wall of government. Pam made herself into an expert, so that she could light the path.
“Over the years, she helped thousands of individuals navigate the system, including her bosses.”
And she operated with a few simple principles, like others with her calling.
Humor is at the top of their list.
They take their jobs seriously, but they never take themselves so seriously that they cannot laugh at their own little missteps.
Luckily, this one is contagious, because it keeps life and work in balance.
As the late comedian Robin Williams said, “Comedy is acting out optimism.”
And optimism is what keeps us all going.
Honesty is a trickier one.
It is easy to find people who will tell you what you want to hear, but tougher to find those who roll the dice every day, telling the truth even though it may cost them.
We celebrate those who “speak truth to power” on the big issues. But without those who do it in the clinches of daily life, nothing would work the way it is supposed to work.
And then there is loyalty.
Personal loyalty is a given, but there must also be loyalty to a higher cause. Some politicians think that there could be nothing worse than losing an election, but losing sight of their values is worse.
Pam knew all these things, and she had street sense, too.
And for that, Lew Borman, who was press secretary to Masloff, often sought her out.
“Pam could spot a phony from a mile away,” he said with a chuckle. “And that's something we need a lot more of these days.”
Sitting in that sanctuary, as her pastor fervently tried to save our souls, you had to smile.
Pam led a good life. And because of her, others led good lives, too.
Leaving the church, even into that cold rain, the day was brighter.
Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer (joemistick.com).