Hundreds gather to remember Souhegan grad
AMHERST - As hundreds gathered at Souhegan High School on Saturday morning to say goodbye to Anthony Barksdale II, one of the concerns his mother Melanie Picard had been carrying with her since she lost her son last week was put to rest.
Overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support, Picard rose from her seat in the front of the auditorium prior to the memorial service for the Souhegan High graduate and addressed the audience.
"I just want to yell thank you so much for loving our son because we loved him so much," she said, refusing to take the stage but wanting to be heard. "My biggest fear was that he'd be forgotten, but now I know he won't be."
By all accounts, Tony Barksdale, 18, was the kind of kid who brought love, laughter and a little bit of mischief into the lives of those who knew him. Alisa Faye, his older sister, dismissed the idea that the gathering should be a time of grief.
"Yesterday we cried and mourned," she said. "But today, we're going to celebrate everything Tony brought us, which was joy and happiness."
Faye said there were three types of people in the room on Saturday: Those who knew Tony for most of his life while he was growing up in Mont Vernon, those who had just come to know him, including his classmates at Boston University, and those who didn't get to know Tony at all.
"Those are the people I feel bad for," she said.
Like most sisters would, Faye described her little brother as "a pain in the butt."
"But you loved it when he was a pain or a nag because you knew it was how he showed you that he loved you," she said.
But since his death at Boston University on March 2, Faye said she has repeatedly heard from others how much her brother loved her and was proud of her.
"It's nice to hear that my brother thought nice about me," she said. "I'm upset that I was not as vocal about my brother. I'm very proud of my brother, proud of everything he did. I know he knew that, and now you all know that, too."
Basketball Coach Mike Heany spoke of Barksdale's dedication to the team, his eagerness to support his teammates any way he could and his refusal to let the "big huge Tony smile" leave his face, even in times of defeat.
"Tony brought so much wealth to our lives," said Heany, who coached the standout varsity player in his junior and senior years at Souhegan.
Heany said that those who had been touched by Barksdale owed him a debt that needed to be repaid by smiling more, by caring for others, and for dreaming big.
His best friend, Travis Hobbs of Mont Vernon, said that without Barksdale, whom he had known since first grade, he probably wouldn't have made it through high school.
Hobbs told the story of trying to outdo each other at the Grand Buffet in Nashua. After downing five plates of food at the buffet, Hobbs was convinced that he was the victor and began resting on his laurels.
However, the thought of losing sent his friend to the ice cream buffet where he out-consumed his best friend by forcing down three bowls of ice cream. But it was after the eating competition ended that the important part of the story happened, Hobbs said.
Knowing that they had left a considerable mess for the waitress, Tony decided to leave her a considerable tip and gave her $60 more than the bill.
"We tried to tell him that three bucks was enough, but he wouldn't hear of it," Hobbs said. "He felt like he owed that money to her."
The waitress ultimately forced Barksdale to keep his money, but for Hobbs, the lesson of treating others with kindness and generosity wasn't lost.
Barksdale, a freshman at BU, was rushed to a hospital after being found unconscious in an off-campus apartment early last Saturday. He died a few hours later.
Boston University Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore said that the Sigma Alpha Mu chapter was suspended by BU following "reports of underage drinking and severe intoxication" at an unregistered off-campus fraternity event.
Elmore said the fraternity's national organization has also suspended the BU chapter.
Though Saturday's service was a celebration of his life, his great-great uncle, Bishop Stanley Choate of the New England Pentacostal Ministries in Pelham, took a few moments to express remorse that a single incident could cut such a bright future so short.
"It's important to count the costs of those things that will stop you from reaching your destiny," Choate cautioned. "I'm sure Tony never thought it would end this way, or stop this way. Let us learn from this."