David Barrow, 1952-2012: Watch expert, builder overcame early tragedy


David Barrow, who mastered watch repair and home building — and many avocations, too — after a car crash at age 18 left him a paraplegic, died Monday in Advanced Specialty Hospital in Toledo. He was 60.

Two years ago, he had kidney surgery, then a stroke. A series of health problems and lengthy stays in a list of hospitals and nursing homes followed.

“He had such a positive attitude,” his brother, Gabe, said. “Even the last year-and-a-half, you’d never have met a more positive guy.

“He had drive. Unbridled determination,” his brother said. “This guy was handed a bad deal at the age of 18, and he never said, ‘Why me?’ ”

Mr. Barrow tried not to let the health struggles of the last two years get to him, said Matt Janowiecki, a friend.

“It was incredible. It took a special person to be able to endure the mental anguish and physical anguish and suffering he had to go through,” Mr. Janowiecki said.

Mr. Barrow’s car was hit broadside in April, 1970, at South Detroit and South avenues, his brother said. He underwent back surgery and was under hospital care for more than a year. He had full use of his arms and was paralyzed from the sternum down. He used a wheelchair and drove, but work in his father’s remodeling and contracting business no longer seemed possible.

“My dad wanted him to have a good future, something he could do,” his brother said.

Mr. Barrow learned his craft at the Joseph Bulova School of Watchmaking in Woodside, N.Y. Afterward, he solicited watch-repair jobs from jewelry retailers in Toledo and in Michigan. His brother, Gabe, had followed him at the Bulova school and, at their parents’ home off River Road in South Toledo, they labored over the watches. The brothers returned the work, completed, within a week. The stores weren't always as prompt with payment.

“We finally decided we’re not getting paid to do the work at wholesale, we might as well do it retail,” his brother said.

Mr. Barrow and Gabe, joined by their brother, Greg, and sister, Lisa, in the 1970s opened Barrow’s Jewelers and Horologists on Glendale Avenue.

“We didn't have a clue about business,” Gabe said. “We got a baptism by fire for awhile.”

David Barrow’s knack for winning friends and customers and his skill at the bench helped establish the store. Restoring pocket watches, some a century old, was one specialty.

“He loved cleaning and refurbishing antique pocket watches,” Gabe said. “He was a good repairman and watch and clock master. But he could talk the business up, and people knew him to be honest and straight and forthright.”

Jewelry work was not yet on the menu, but after a customer asked to have a ring sized, Mr. Barrow bought a torch and other equipment and read up on ring sizing.

By the 1990s, “he was getting bored sitting at the bench with the wheelchair,” Gabe said.

David Barrow then took on home building and oversaw the construction of seven houses.

“He was helping dig ditches and slam boards together and pour sidewalks,” Gabe said. “If a job wouldn't be done right, he’d get another person to finish the job. He never left the job undone.”

John Robinson Block, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade, grew up with the Barrows in South Toledo and knew David and his family.

“His brother Gabe was a close friend at Harvard School. That made David Barrow (two years older) part of our play group. His tragic car accident was the worst thing to befall anyone we knew growing up in the 1960s on River Road,” Mr. Block said.

Mr. Janowiecki said of Mr. Barrow: “He didn't let anything stop him physically, even if he had to get out of the chair and crawl over to show somebody how to do something.”

That trait was obvious when they met about 30 years ago at the 21st Century Health Spa in Maumee, where Mr. Janowiecki was an instructor.

“He came in to start working out. We got to be friends from there,” Mr. Janowiecki said. Mr. Barrow did bicep and tricep work; delt raises and lat pulldowns, and could bench press 400 pounds — anything to build his upper body.

“He physically was incredibly strong,” Mr. Janowiecki said.

Mr. Barrow from an early age had an extended circle of close friends — and others gravitated to him.

“He was very easy to talk to, and once you got talking to him, you wanted to continue to talk to him because he had an outgoing personality,” Mr. Janowiecki said.

“David had a unique personality,” Mr. Janowiecki said. “He was very intelligent and had a photographic memory, and he was very outspoken and very knowledgeable in many areas, from construction to politics to general life skills.”

Mr. Barrow entertained friends and family members at the home he shared with his mother, but he didn’t hesitate to roll his wheelchair to his car; put the chair in the car, and go — either bound for a road trip or a commercial airline flight. He liked to ski and toboggan, camp and, through his 20s, water ski on the Maumee. His Rottweilers rarely left his side.

“He never let anything afflict him,” Gabe said.

Mr. Barrow was born Feb. 17, 1952, to the former Violet Farran and William Barrow. He attended Bowsher High School and was a graduate of the former Macomber Vocational Technical High School.

Surviving are his mother, Violet; sisters, Denise Matheny, Michelle Popoff, and Lisa Barrow, and brothers, Gabriel, Gregory, and William Barrow.

Visitation will be from 2-8 p.m. Thursday in the Coyle Funeral Home, with Trisagion prayers at 7 p.m. in the mortuary. Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Friday in St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, Sylvania.

The family suggests tributes to the church or a charity of the donor’s choice.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.