R.I.P Bill Barry who grabbed Robert F. Kennedy's assassin’s gun and prevented many other deaths on that fateful night in 1968.
Bill Barry passed away this week at age 91 in his New York suburban home.
To the end of his life, Bill unfairly blamed himself for what happened to Robert F. Kennedy on the dreadful night of June 5th, 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
Back then, presidential candidates had no secret service protection and former NYPD and FBI Agent Bill Barry was the only bodyguard for the Senator.
The crowd at the Ambassador that night was hugely excited. Kennedy had just won California and the Democratic race against Hubert Humphrey was suddenly neck and neck.
When his speech finished Kennedy leaned over to his bodyguard and friend Barry and stated, “look after Ethel,” his notorious crowd-shy wife who was being swamped by well-wishers.
Barry did so and seconds later Kennedy exited through the kitchen where the killer Sirhan Sirhan was waiting. The Palestinian refugee opened fire. The second Kennedy in five years received fatal wounds. There was mass hysteria.
Barry alone kept his cool. On hearing the shots, Barry, a few yards behind Kennedy, rushed Sirhan and saved many lives by knocking Sirhan’s gun out of his hand. As the crowd tries to attack Sirhan he handed him over to two supporters, footballer Rosey Grier and aide Jack Gallivan, saying, "Take this guy. Get this guy off in a corner where people can't hit him."
He was devastated by Bobby’s death and found it hard to talk about it. He was among the closest non-family member friend the Kennedys had. He believed if he had been beside Kennedy he might have seen the gun as he was trained to do and saved Kennedy.
He met Bobby when he was an FBI agent detailed to meet and protect the then New York Senator when he traveled around the state.
FBI Director J.Edgar Hoover was enraged Barry was getting so friendly with the hated Kennedys. He ordered him to Mobile, Alabama. Barry quit. He opened his own successful security firm and was soon a Kennedy confidant.
He became an indispensable friend and security advisor - a very familiar figure with his shock of white hair and map of Ireland face.
"He's a substantial guy -- very, very highly regarded and well-liked by people in law enforcement and government," then-DA Robert Morgenthau said in an interview some years back.
Barry expanded his own security firm and worked for a time as CEO of the New York racing authority. He became a close friend of Governor Hugh Carey.
In the early 90s, he encountered another famous Irish American, Bill Flynn, Chairman of Mutual of America and they became fast friends. When Tom Moran took over as CEO the relationship continues. Ironically all three have died in 2018 within months of each other.
Flynn had become deeply involved in peace efforts in Northern Ireland and was often on dangerous ground during visits there. Barry became his de facto bodyguard, but eventually much more than that, a trusted advisor to the small group seeking to bring American involvement to the peace effort.
In the critical phase leading up to the IRA ceasefire, Barry was a key member of the Irish American group. Indeed, there is a historical photograph of Adams telling the Americans that the IRA ceasefire was about to be announced. Sitting next to Adams is Bill Barry
He died this week after a life well lived. He was one of a kind but always gentlemanly with a great Irish sense of humor and fun.
I was privileged to know him. May he rest in peace.