Remembering Barney Chanda: Red Cross volunteer, lifelong learner and mentor

By Sarah Witiw, Coordinator, First Aid Program Development
The Canadian Red Cross family experienced a great loss last week. Long-time volunteer, mentor, Master Instructor Trainer (MIT), and friend, Barney Chanda, passed away suddenly on Wednesday, October 13th. Many will recognize Barney for his many appearances over the years in Red Cross first aid and water safety manuals, videos, and resources.
Barney smiling at a group of younger adults
Our organization has the privilege of working with many dedicated and hardworking volunteers who are committed to the Red Cross mission to help others in need and support people in strengthening their resilience. Barney Chanda was no exception.

He embodied the model mentor and leader, turning even the simplest situation into a teachable moment. Barney worked tirelessly as a volunteer for First Aid, Swimming and Water Safety, Branch Council and Emergency Management; he would have marked his 40-year anniversary milestone as a Red Cross volunteer in early 2022.

Barney holding a toddler in a swimming pool while they both hold a toy squirting waterHis drive to share his knowledge and experience in both aquatics and first aid empowered thousands of learners across the country, always delivered with an infectious smile and nuggets of wisdom or “Barney-isms” as they became known. Barney was honoured to receive the Curly Andrews Water Safety Award in 2002, recognizing his significant contributions and years of service.

An avid photographer, skilled dancer, and a true lover of life, Barney cared immensely about people and humanity. This was reflected in everything he did. An outpouring of memories has been shared about Barney over the past several days, many with common sentiments to describe him: influential, inspiring, passionate, positive, and kind, to name a few.

Some comments from Barney’s peers echo how many at the Canadian Red Cross feel:

Barney, beside Lindsay, guiding a young child through the water, smiling.“A smile he would give at a dime a dozen. His heart as pure as the rarest stone. A presence that was a true gift to this plane of existence. He wanted to make this world a better place, and with the lessons he taught and the people he mentored, he has accomplished this goal.”
Shaela Nathan-Smith

“From the first day I met Barney, he made me feel like we had known each other forever and I knew instantly that he accepted me for me, and that I was considered a friend in his life. I saw that same approach when he took new MITs under his wing, shared stories, and brought them into his circle…our circle.”
Michelle Hebein

“At an MIT workshop in Ottawa, I gained a memory that has always stuck with me. We did an ice breaker web activity. I cannot for the life of me remember Barney’s full story that he spoke, but I fully remember how his words made me feel. I can close my eyes and feel the warmth, caring, and kindness that he generated by sharing his story. He looked at each one of us as he told his story and when he looked at you, you were filled with his positive energy.”
Paula Thulin

“He was such an amazing person with a great personality. His smile lit up any room, and all people in the room. He always made time for anyone that crossed his path and always had a way of making people feel very special. I had lots of encounters with him as a volunteer and MIT of the Swimming & Water Safety and First Aid programs. He had a wealth of information to share and helped propel programs to the level they were intended.”
Sally Griffiths
In the spirit of Barney’s mission of lifelong learning, his family has urged us to look at his passing as an opportunity to educate and do some good for others. When you see someone in need, help. Don’t pass by or assume that the next person will act. Take the time to stop and think about how you can help; even the simplest actions can make a difference. Your willingness to act can save a life.

Barney leaves behind a legacy of inspiration, leadership, and compassion and his passing leaves a hole in the hearts of many.

A reflection shared by another of Barney’s colleagues serves as a fitting closing to remember our friend and colleague:

“Thank you, Barney–you left the world a better place than you found it.”

We invite you to share your memories of Barney in the comments below.

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