New Bedford has lost a pillar of knowledge with the passing of Peter Sylvanus Barney.

He was 73.

Barney was a former New Bedford Administration Assessor and a walking encyclopedia for local history and its politics.

He was married to Joan Barney for nearly 50 years. The couple had one son, Jamoson. Joan Barney is a longtime Assistant Librarian at the New Bedford Free Public Library, and that is where the couple first met in 1972.

"Peter asked my boss if I was seeing anyone, and soon afterwards, asked me out for a movie and a pizza," Joan recalled.

"At first, Peter was apprehensive about telling me about his hobby of model railroading. He was afraid I'd jump ship," she said.

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Barney also enjoyed writing poetry and authored the three-volume set of The Book of On's, true stories of his past.

"In one narrative, Peter recalls telling a city worker that his city hall office had a faulty light switch," Joan said. "The worker went out to his truck and returned with an old-looking light switch. He told Peter that the switch didn't work in an other building, but he'll give it a try and see if it worked in Peter's office."

Barney was the go-to person when someone needed information about local property questions, city council actions and remembering past elections. He worked with eight city mayors and served as City Treasurer under Mayor Brian Lawler.

Barney ran for public office twice before being elected to the Board of Assessors. He also served on many boards including Board of Trustees for the New Bedford Free Public Library, the Board of the New Bedford Symphony and the Board of the Opportunity Center, among others. Barney enjoyed being a past president of the Wamsutta Club and Luncheon Club.

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Joan remembered that when Peter attended Roosevelt Junior High School, because of a hip disability that required steel pins in his hip and a leg brace, he had to take classes differently than the other students.

"He was one of America's first "Zoom without the camera" school students," she said. "He learned at home, listening to the teachers on an intercom system."

Barney went on to earn a Bachelor's Degree in English from Bridgewater University, and he was also a real estate broker.

His passion, though, was railroads.

Having built six working displays, Barney was elected to the Hall of Fame of the National Narrow Gauge Modelers.

"Peter loved traveling to various railway conventions, meeting fellow enthusiasts from all over the world," Joan said.

One of his proudest achievements was being a founding member of the Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railway Museum in Alna, Maine.

"Peter (also) thoroughly enjoyed being a founding member of 'The Kitchen Cabinet' on The Phil Paleologos Show," Joan said. "He looked forward to talking about the issues, local and national, every week."

Peter Barney will be greatly missed.

Arraignments will be announced soon by Saunders-Dwyer Funeral Home.

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