A Florida pastor known for his dedication to his church and his family died of a gunshot wound nearly 60 years after the bullet was fired, a medical examiner says.
The Rev. John Henry Barrett , 77, who served as pastor for the New Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Pahokee for more than three decades, died in May of an infection and complications related to the gunshot wound that partially paralyzed him in 1958.
At age 19, Barrett was shot by a friend during a fight, damaging Barrett's spinal cord, requiring him to walk with a cane. The friend, who was not identified in the medical examiner's report, served time in prison. Court and law enforcement officials told the Post they could not find any records with information about the suspect or the shooting.
Barrett never let his disability define him: in addition to his work as a pastor, he earned a degree from Palm Beach County Junior College and become the first African-American executive director of the Pahokee Housing Authority .
His family told the Post that on the rare occasion Barrett spoke of the shooting, he used it as a way to inspire others; in 1974, he told The Miami Herald that the injury kept him from working in the fields, like many of his friends did - and that might have been a blessing.
"If the accident hadn't happened, I would have spent all of my life as a farm worker," he told the newspaper.
Robert Lee, Terrance Lee's brother, told the Post that the brothers have memories of their great uncle's sermons: "His voice was very commanding," Robert Lee said. "He was handicapped, (but) if you close your eyes and you hear him speak, you wouldn't know that."
He added, "He always told my brother and myself, no matter how dire your circumstances, your mind has the ability to overcome anything. His life is an example."
Terrance Lee, Barrett's great-nephew, said his uncle "never wanted to be looked upon as (being disabled)."
"He wanted to be looked up to as a normal person in society. That's the way he lived his life," he said.
In the days leading up to his death, Barrett reportedly encouraged parishioners to continue building on the church's foundation and to help it grow, Lee said.
"He was a very, very positive individual," Robert Lee said. "He never let his situation or his circumstance determine his potential in life."