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Raise a glass to Roger Barnaby

Roger BarnabyRoger Barnaby

UPDATED Dec. 16: The following tribute was submitted by Sheri Baron, a longtime Precinct 7 Town Meeting member.

The next time you are dining out and have a chardonnay or Sam Adams in town, you should raise your glass to Roger Barnaby. He was the driving force behind one of the most significant, positive changes in our town.

Barnaby is the reason that Arlington now boasts some of the best restaurants in the area. He is the reason that our town has become a vibrant restaurant destination.

He died on Sept. 3, of complications from Covid-19, after a yearlong battle against pancreatic cancer. He was 75 years old.

Raised here

Roger was  raised  in Arlington, attended public school here and  graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology. He was living on the North Shore at the time of his death.

Many of you knew Roger as an articulate, insightful Town Meeting member. This is where I met him. And I was privileged to be his friend for 28 years.

Some history. In the 1870s and 1880s, Arlington was part of the national temperance movement seeking to rid the nation of alcohol. The town had activist churches and temperance societies.

By the turn of the century, while other towns and cities in the Commonwealth were gradually throwing off the constraints placed upon them by the post-prohibition mindset, Arlington was not. In 1940, Arlington was the only town in the entire state to vote “no” on liquor licensing. Then in November 1964, the licensing of alcohol, beer and wine served in restaurants was defeated by a 5-to-1 margin, with a 92-percent voter turnout in the town election 

By 1977, a Special Town Meeting had voted  to put a proposition on the ballot to allow alcohol licenses for up to five restaurants (with seating for at least 99 patrons and required adequate parking). In 1978, voters approved the question, but there was no provision for serving beer and wine with meals in smaller restaurants.

1993 Town Meeting

At the 1993 Town Meeting, former town Treasurer Stephen Gilligan introduced the owner of Casa Cucina, a fine Italian restaurant on Summer Street, where Scutra is now. Many of her patrons were requesting wine with dinner. Since there wasn’t even a provision for bringing in your own bottle of wine, she hoped that the town might change its restrictions.

Gilligan  proposed a warrant article that would place a question on the ballot in the next town election, asking the voters to  allow beer and wine to be served in establishments with less than 99 seats and with less stringent parking requirements. 

Roger immediately rose and spoke in favor of the question. He offered to start a committee to work on this, and I volunteered. After the meeting, half a dozen other members volunteered. We formed the “Committee to Vote Yes on Question #1.”

With Roger’s creative leadership and focus, we ran a campaign to persuade voters of the potential positive outcome. We asked for support from our friends and neighbors, and from local businesses and restaurants. 

We distributed fliers in front of Stop & Shop, the post offices, on busy street corners throughout town. We appeared on cable TV and wrote guest articles and letters to the editor of the Advocate. (I still have the handwritten “spreadsheets” of donations). It was a homegrown, grass-roots campaign that succeeded. 

Ballot question passes

The  ballot question passed, 70 percent to 29 percent.

Arlington changed. New restaurants opened in the East, the Center and the Heights. New businesses, too. The Boston Globe called it the “sleepy town that woke up.”

It became hard to find a parking place on Friday and Saturday evenings. People were coming from other towns to spend an evening enjoying great food and atmosphere in our town. Over the years, more liquor licenses were granted. 

Our economic boom was not the only contribution Roger made to our town.  During the millennial celebration in 2000, he brought a hot-air balloon into Arlington from Ohio, and we offered rides at Spy Pond Park. He helped me run a very successful senior picnic at Menotomy Rocks Park, and he brought renewed interest to Uncle Sam.  

Roger was a man of intelligence, compassion and great humor. He was kind to a fault and humble about his contributions to our town. And he was a devoted friend.

Raise a glass to him. 

May he rest in peace and may his memory be a blessing.

Nov. 11, 2021: A professor gone too soon

This tribute was published Tuesday, Nov. 30 2021, and updated Dec. 16, to add to cause of death.

Town of Arlington to LGBTQIA+ students: You belong


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