Destinations & Diversions: A tribute to Sharon Barger

J. H. Osborne • Sep 2, 2018 at 8:19 PM

Note: This column is outside my usual topic. It is also one of the most difficult things I’ve been asked to write, because it seems an impossible task: Describe the real person behind a larger-than-life public persona. This was originally to be a news article. But my editors and I finally realized the best hope of paying proper tribute to this high-profile member of our community, while aiming to respect the privacy of family and friends, would be a column told from a first-person perspective. 

KINGSPORT — Since I heard the news a week ago that Sharon Barger had died, I’ve had a little ditty stuck in my head — one I’d learned from her and had assumed was just a little jingle or childhood rhyme. It goes like this:

“Well if I had a nickel I know what I would do. I’d spend it all for candy and give it all to you. I’d spend it all for candy and give it all to you, ’cause that’s how much I love you, baby. That’s how much I love you!”

Turns out that’s the opening verse of “That’s How Much I Love You,” a song popularized in the late 1950s by both Eddy Arnold and Frank Sinatra. I discovered that a few days ago by Googling the first phrase and “lyrics.” Then I went to YouTube and listened to Arnold’s and Sinatra’s versions. They both did a fine job. But they couldn’t compare to Sharon’s fun, joyful delivery. She obviously loved the words. She lived them, too.

Sharon excelled at many things. One of them was generosity. Another was loving. And she was passionate — especially about her husband, Pal, her family and her faith in Christ and where that faith took her when she left this world. That faith brought her peace, and she wanted to share that with others.

I knew a lot about Sharon, but I learned a lot more when family and friends gathered this past Wednesday to celebrate “a life well lived” by a woman who was always looking for ways, “both big and small,” to help others. Those quotes are from her pastor, Tiger Brooks, who preached and led prayers during the service at Glenwood Baptist Church (a campus of Indian Springs Baptist Church). Brooks had been Sharon’s pastor for several years, but had know her since he was a child, right about the time she met Pal.

I was told many times last week of examples of her generosity and helping nature. I’ve read others among comments on social media posts. As I wondered how to summarize them, we got a call at the Times News from Lisa Beilharz, president and chief executive officer of the Kingsport Boys and Girls Club. She wanted to share something about Sharon if we were doing an article.

“Our hearts are truly saddened by the loss of Sharon Barger,” Beilharz said. “I think everyone in the community is grieving with the family. We are so proud that her legacy will continue in members who participate in our Young Empowering Scholars “YES” Program. She believed in the Boys & Girls Club mission of inspiring and engaging all young people to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. We could never have asked for a more loving, caring, upbeat, and original person to support our organization. Sharon will forever be a part of Boys & Girls Club of Greater Kingsport.”

Sharon also was an astute, creative businesswoman in her own right and by Pal’s side. Those things are well-known, though, including this little tidbit: You have her to thank if you’re one of the thousands of folks across our region who enjoy a Big Tea from Pal’s. It was her idea to offer the 32-ounce cups of iced tea at Pal’s. Tea had long been a staple at Skoby’s. Then the carryout cups proved wildly popular at The Pantry, the barbecue restaurant-within-a-restaurant at Skoby’s. When Sharon opened her eponymous restaurant downtown, the big cups of tea became even more popular. If you swing by Pal’s on Revere Street, you can find Sharon’s “light bulb” moment about adding Big Teas to the Pal’s menu depicted on the large painted mural near the picnic tables.

Business achievements and community work, however, weren’t what her family wanted to talk about when they gathered to celebrate Sharon’s life. Their focus instead was on love and joy, faith and peace.

The love between Sharon and Pal was cited as an inspiration for all of what to hope for in a relationship. Sharon’s love of family (which sometimes could include tough love) was detailed by a several-pages-long letter written about 30 years ago to her own mother. In it, Sharon wrote lovingly, with humor sprinkled freely throughout, of each and every one of her siblings and noted they were all getting older and needed to get together more. She concluded she’d started the letter because she was feeling down — but turned that into a positive because if she hadn’t felt down she perhaps wouldn’t have taken the time to express her love to all.

Her joy and faith were shared through music she loved: “How Great Thou Art,” “His Eye is on the Sparrow” and “I’ll Fly Away.”

Sharon’s own words brought to light her sense of peace. A poem she wrote a year or so ago was read aloud. Its overall theme: I know where I’m going (a happier place) and someday we can all be reunited. I wasn’t taking notes, but one line that jumped out at me went something like “Put a smile on your face today, for I am only a thought away.”

I was not close to Sharon, knowing her mostly through her professional side over the years. Getting to know her more personally in recent years, through her daughter Christy, was a blessing. I can understand why so many people in Kingsport were inspired by her, because even though our interactions were relatively few and brief, she inspired me, too. 

Sharon Ann Kimes Barger was 72.

In addition to Pal and her daughter, Christy Cross Stout, Sharon is survived by: son-in-law John Stout; stepchildren Rick Barger (and Kelley Crewey and her son Kevin) and Christine Barger (and her husband Michael Morison); grandchildren Lottie Rae Stout, Zoe Luca Stout, Landon Pratt, Jonathan Pratt (and wife Tiffany); great-grandchildren Emma Pratt and Austyn Pratt; and siblings Linda and Danny Hall, Judy and J.R. Blankenship, Daniel and Kay Kimes, Marilyn Kimes, Tammy and Russell Street, Frieda Kimes and Reida Kimes; and several nieces and nephews.

Sharon’s obituary suggested in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions be made to the American Cancer Society or Alzheimer’s Tennessee. They should be mailed c/o Rob Thompson, 1001 Konnarock Road, Kingsport, TN 37664.

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