RUMFORD – Don Barker was never happier than when he was tending his garden.

“The soil, the outdoors, the growth of anything. He was a happy camper when he was in the garden,” said his wife, Sue.

Barker, 66, died doing one of the things he loved doing on Dec. 13. He was cutting down a pine tree on his land when he was struck by the tree and pinned against another.

Since his retirement in 2004 from NewPage Corp., after working there in many capacities for four decades, he had started experimenting with raspberries, and peach and apple trees. He was also trying to start a blueberry patch.

“He didn’t think he could walk up White Cap forever,” said his wife. “He had planted the bushes just last year.”

White Cap is known by local people as a great place to pick wild blueberries.

The vegetables grown in his garden were shared with many.

“He was generous. He would drop off packages of vegetables, winter squash, potatoes,” said Ron Hemingway, a co-worker who became union president after Barker’s stint.

As president of Local 900 of the United Paperworkers International Union, Barker is remembered by many for his pursuit of fairness for employees during the 1986 strike.

“He took things as they came. He never panicked and was rather cool,” said Hemingway. “He never rested until everyone got a job back after the strike. The fallout took two years.”

Besides gardening, Barker loved to hunt, fish and boat.

“He was a man’s man. He was good at everything he did,” said Hemingway.

Barker was a certified logger and a registered tree farmer.

Ron Hemingway’s brother, Gary, who is now the Local 900 president, said Barker recently built a new barn.

“He was such a nice guy, and he shared his large garden with everyone. He grew too much, and his garden was too neat,” said Gary Hemingway.

Barker also enjoyed beer and a good drink, and playing poker, Hemingway said.

Barker knew people from all over the country, largely because of his involvement with the Pulp and Paper Resource Council. He was its national chairman after his terms as union president.

When Ron Hemingway gives a tribute at Barker’s funeral on Thursday, memories from people who knew him will be part of the reading.

Richard Merrill of Andover began working at the mill at about the same time as Barker. He and his wife, Carolyn, had occasionally gone out to supper with Don and Sue Barker.

“He was a very kind person who didn’t hesitate to help others. He also helped other unions, and he will be missed,” Merrill said. “This is so sad.”

Barker leaves his wife, two daughters, several grandchildren and several siblings.

Visiting hours are 3 to 6 p.m., Thursday, followed by a celebration of his life at 6 p.m. at S.G. Thibault Funeral Home and Cremation Services on Penobscot Street.

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