John Sutherland Barker

New Year's Day 1944 - Remembrance Sunday 2010

Text and images © Valerie Barker, 2010    Last updated: 26th January 2011. List of updates.

Valerie plans to add more photographs as she sorts through earlier years' records and as she carries out John's plans.
Best viewed full-screen (try pressing F11; F11 again will revert to previous size).
Click on pictures to enlarge them, then use the Back arrow to return here.

Janet Miller Sutherland and Norman Barker on their wedding day, 27th April 1942 at Bruan Manse, Caithness.
The first born son of Norman and Janet Barker, John was a New Year's Day baby. His parents met and married in wartime. Norman was a Regimental Quarter Master Sergeant from Yorkshire and Janet Miller Sutherland came from the Post Office in Ulbster in Caithness, just over the hill from where John made his home at Thorneybush. Janet was a nurse at the Bignold Hospital in Wick. During the war she nursed at Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

John as a toddler
John and his twin brother, David, saw little of their father in their first two years of life as Norman was posted overseas. Janet and the twins lived directly opposite the gate of their Yorkshire Grandfather's nursery. After the war Peter came along and the boys spent many happy hours playing in the greenhouses and amongst the nursery beds. This was the foundation of John's love of gardens and gardening which stayed with him through his life. Just now at Thorneybush he's in the middle of making a rose garden and he has plans drawn up for a new greenhouse. He was pleased to prove to those who doubted that you can grow apples and plums, cherries and strawberries on the Caithness coast.

Home grown

School photo of John, September 1950
After the war Norman returned to work at the Provincial Building Society. When John was seven the family moved to Edinburgh as Norman took up a management post in the city centre branch. One memory from their Edinburgh years is of the boys being left in the care of neighbours. They made a parachute from an old duster with a weight suspended underneath. Against Mother and Father's instructions they threw the parachute as high in the air as they could and got it tangled in the phone wires. Hiding in the garden shed, the boys were nowhere to be seen when Norman and Janet returned. This saved them from the telling off they deserved as their parents were so relieved to find them that punishment got forgotten.

John was the most mischievous of the brothers, particularly at an early age and would often justify this to his mother by explaining that "it was the devil in him". This usually amused Janet and enabled him to get off reasonably lightly. Even in Raigmore Hospital one Charge Nurse was charmed by John's cheeky grin. His cousin Christine described him as "a bit of a devil" and his cousin Margaret remembered “the fun we shared with John at family gatherings over the years and his wicked sense of humour”. His niece Michelle wrote “John was a wonderful uncle. I have many happy (and some naughty!) memories of him.” One of his doctors remembers "a vibrant man, larger than life with an amusing side to his personality."

Encouraging wild life to the round pond in the garden at Thorneybush - a duck in August 2006 was followed by a heron in August 2008

John kite flying in Yorkshire with Keith and Sophie
Three years in Edinburgh and the birth of the boys' youngest brother, Keith, were followed by a move to Glasgow as John's Dad was promoted. Four years later they returned to Yorkshire. The family lived in Keighley where John went to the Grammar School. By this time John had moved on from parachutes to model aeroplanes which he used to fly in a field near his home. With an aircraft controlled by metal lines attached to a metal handle, John had a go at stunt flying. The result was remembered in Keighley for a long time as the metal wires wrapped across power cables and the result was a great shower of sparks and half of this good-sized industrial town was without electricity for several hours. John survived the experience with nothing more than a slight burn on his hand and a very surprised expression on his face. Aeromodelling and team racing the models he built led John into lifelong membership of Wharfedale and District Aeromodelling Club. He won trophies at national level and made friendships which last to this day. In Caithness John took up radio controlled model flying and made many excellent friends who stood by him in his last illness.

John at David's wedding, 1968 After school John worked for a number of companies in Yorkshire and Lancashire, undertook training and gained qualifications and membership of professional bodies. He married and had two little girls, Liz and Claire. Sadly they both died and left a great hole in his life though today he is held in great affection by his brothers' children and grandchildren who come home to Caithness to visit. The brothers Barker (David, Keith, John, Peter), 2008

John with his brothers' children and grandchildren
John and Gavin, July 2010. They've sat at the kitchen table and schemed technical projects every year since Gavin was 8 Keith, John and Gavin - team effort Gavin and John Summer 2004, before the big shed was built

Lunch in the garden, John with Keith and Gavin July 2010 Dinner in the kitchen, Gavin, Keith and John Michelle and John Michelle, Caroline and John
Jack, Caroline, David and Peter
John with his great-niece Annabel June 2010 John with his great-niece Zoë August 2008
John and Zoë John with his niece Heather, August 2010

John's first marriage ended but later on he met Valerie and they were married for nearly 32 years. John decided Valerie would be a good partner when his Golden Labrador, Bonnie, accepted her. Since that time they've always had animals, many of them looking for a loving home when their owners could no longer look after them. The dogs which came in that way were Dillon, Flossie, Sadie, Scruffy and Winston. Flossie had puppies after a Collie came over the garden wall at Dunbeath and one of the pups, Candy, stayed with John and Valerie for the rest of her life. Winston died, aged 17, on December 30th, a month and a half after John. He is buried beneath the trees in the croft just east of the round pond near where Westacre Wood will grow. He loved to go into the croft and so his last resting place is there. Of course it was not just dogs. Tod the goat came too and lived at Thorneybush until he was 16.
Winston Himself A favourite place John and Winston walking in the snow
Heading for the croft Back to the house Special treats, Christmas Day 2009 Now, what's the problem?

Coming to Caithness was coming home for John and Valerie. They lived first at the Old School in Dunbeath and then made their home in Ulbster. They dug beneath the walls of Thorneybush and put in foundations, stripped off the thatch and over the years John built the beautiful home they have today. David, Peter and Keith and their families all got roped in too and have memories of their contributions to the building of Thorneybush. John was justifiably proud of his handiwork and every part of Thorneybush reflects his design skills and his craftsmanship and that of his friends.
Thorneybush hall, Christmas 2009, with winter sunshine on the china cabinet and the steel and glass staircase Staircase Staircase
Standing Stone Circle Striding out in 2006 - stepping stones across the top pond
There are ponds to dig and waterfalls to make John in the garden at Thorneybush, May 2008. The big shed and greenhouse he built are behind him
John, Gavin and Keith sizing up demolition of the original shed and greenhouse. John's plans for the new one should be turned into reality next summer. Miles remembers it as the Milk House. We called it Tod's Dairy. Now it is a tool shed and summerhouse
Apple tree in paving beside Tod's Dairy

The garden gate
  Flowers in the spring in Thorneybush garden
The view to the west where willows and alders grow by the ditch The stream flows into the bottom garden pond Lorraine clearing weed from the ponds in the stream
Thorneybush house and garden from the top pond Thorneybush garden and the croft beyond
JCB work beside the new deer fence James, John, Winston and The Gator - moving stones by the new deer fence
The Quad Bike and Gator are good for getting around the croft

Design skills were to the fore when John set up his own printing and gift card company and that took him to all parts of the UK and to the USA where, as always, he made lasting friendships. More friendships came through Lodge Latheron of which John was a Past Master. John was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and he worked with the Society to develop expedition equipment which has been used all round the world. John helped his friend Denis build his glass studio, learned the basics of glass engraving and hot glass work himself and commissioned glass sculpture and engraving for Thorneybush. He was a great encourager, supporting friends young and old in their endeavours, dropping everything to listen, counsel or help and standing back in quiet admiration as they've made their mark in the world. Two young people wrote "John was always so nice and supportive of me - I really appreciated that as I grew up." and "he taught me a great many skills that I still use today and I am appreciative that I am here with his help." Older friends recollect "how much compassion he showed" and "he never judged or criticized" when reflecting on John's support at difficult times in their lives. One simply said "he was like a brother to me."
Callum and John, February 2008 Denis, John and Winston - reflections in the top pond Assessing glass ideas and possibilities - John, Denis and James
John and James out for a walk James, John, Keith and Gavin - sitting in the sun Denis, John and John - Wick Gala
Ann preparing to shoot clay pigeons on the croft ? and John - Wick Gala, 2008 You never know who you'll meet at Wick Gala

John in October 2009
In Caithness John made use of his management qualifications, gained Membership of the Chartered Management Institute and worked with the Community Service Agency in Thurso, training unemployed youngsters, many of whom still remember him. A spell at Wester resulted in more friendships and a job training unemployed managers took him all over the Highlands until kidney problems made the travelling impossible.

Ten years ago a new phase in John's life began. He knew he had arterial disease and that the events of the last 6 weeks of his life would eventually catch up with him. At first he was pretty low but then Dr Johnston suggested Wick Lifeboat were setting up a new Fund Raising Committee and needed a secretary. John never looked back. He was instrumental in setting up the new committee and carried out his duties with great enthusiasm, thoroughly enjoying Harbour Days and all the other Lifeboat events. He served on the Scottish Council of the RNLI and in 2008 was presented with their Bronze Award. As always, John got back as much as he gave and the support of the Lifeboat Crew and the Fund Raising Committee have been a great blessing to both John and Valerie. The collection at his funeral and afterwards raised £1,082 for RNLI Wick Lifeboat.
Presentation of RNLI Bronze Award
Harbour Day

John was never afraid to stand up for his friends or his community. On Dunbeath Community Council he worked hard to ensure Highland Council fulfilled its responsibilities to carry out repairs at the harbour. One tribute to John describes him as "intelligent and tenacious as many bureaucrats will have found out to their dismay." Even though he was physically ill John continued to relish taking on authority and knocking big business or officialdom down a peg or two. One friend he helped commented: "What a mind that man's got." Just now he is one of the people who have responded to Highland Council's proposals for a new High School for Wick. If you needed a letter written, a form filled in or red tape cut, John was your man.

There were a good few very surprised folk about after John died. He had fooled a lot of the people a lot of the time, continuing to live his life to the full, where necessary organising help for things he couldn't do himself. This has included working his croft. Valerie asks that, please, when spring and summer come, you visit Thorneybush. A friend has written of John's "real enthusiasm for life with challenges to meet and dreams to fulfil." There aren't many people who built a steel and glass staircase whilst on dialysis, or created a beautiful garden, or set about major renovation of a croft. Eight days before he died John drew a map of the croft and wrote a list of what needs doing next. Watch Thorneybush continue to develop if you drive by, but call in too to see how John's plans are coming on.
Gravel for the Rose Garden paths Tending the tomatoes in 2006 - soon there'll be a new greenhouse One day a bluebell wood will frame this view of the sea
This will be Westacre wood – Winston rests nearby Here there'll be a wild flower meadow

David and John, Wetherby, June 2004
Valerie and John have many thank you's to say, to all family and friends for what each one has meant to John in recent and in distant years. John sent his love to you all in his last days. Twins have a special bond and David brought John's life full circle, being at his side in his last weeks just as when they were boys. David and John never use the word "I" when speaking of their childhood. It is always "We". David travelled from Yorkshire, once by boat and 3 times by car. He lived in the hospital in Inverness for John's last week, ensuring he was never left alone, even setting him up to watch the Formula One Grand Prix on TV on his last afternoon, just as if he'd been at home.

John and Mike, August 2006
John was good at making friends. He was a team builder. These teams pulled together for him and for Valerie more and more since John first knew of his illness about 10 years ago - his family in Caithness and over the Ord, his College friends, his Aeromodelling friends, his Lifeboat friends, his Masonic friends, Andy from the Institute of Advanced Motorists, friends made through Wick Library, his Farming and Crofting friends and neighbours, friends from across the business community in Caithness and the Highlands and Islands, people who delivered things to Thorneybush, stopped for a chat and became friends, his friends in Wick High School and the North School, and friends at Wick Ambulance Station and in the Renal Units at Wick and Raigmore Hospitals. He also had friends in less obvious places including Caithness Textile Artists and Caithness Quilters. In his last month Caithness Quilters made John a long and cosy patchwork quilt to keep him warm on the dialysis machine and Janette made a mattress extender for his hospital bed so his feet didn't hang over the end. John would have been pleased, but probably not surprised, to know that all these friends and family members continue to look after Valerie just as he would have wished.

John was a great enthusiast, interested in everything from aircraft to zoomorphic calligraphy - cooking, climbing, caving, cars, motor sport, steam trains (he drove one in New England), screen printing, tartans, photography, pot-holing, geology, hill walking, woodwork and wood turning, furniture making and fishing, reading, music . . . . Older friends will forget the mobility problems which came with circulatory disease and remember John doing the twist. He always wanted to learn to play trumpet . . . and to tap dance. Big band, steel band, pipes and drums, swing, pop, haunting melodies, good rousing hymns - he enjoyed them all and sang along to CDs in his hospital room in his last week. Nurses asked if they could come to the party.
A trip out to a favourite harbour Out for a drive, winter 2009
His last Volvo Cooking, Thorneybush kitchen

John's medical team was extensive. He said his own thank yous to his nurses and doctors, especially to Rhoda, his PD nurse who visited him regularly at home for over 3 years. Every time a nurse or doctor saw John or gave him an injection he said thank you. The Raigmore Renal Unit staff became his family away from home, looking out for John, David and Valerie wherever they were in the hospital. The Wick Renal team were equally kind. At home once a fortnight John's prescription - a pallet load of dialysis supplies from Northampton, organised by Una and Elayne - was delivered by Ian. In Wick Iain and then Emily gave superb care, as did Jennifer and Sandy. He counted them all as friends.

All those who looked after John were moved by his courage and composure. He was dignified and cheerful despite his pain, always grateful for their care and considerate of their feelings too. Many nurses and doctors said it was a privilege to nurse John and said their goodbyes to him with tears in their eyes. He died with Valerie and David beside him at 5.40 pm on Sunday November 14th 2010.

John was a big man in many, many ways.

John in July 2006, in his garden, looking over his croft