Beloved husband, father and grandfather; dedicated volunteer
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Peter Kennard Barber, of Jamaica Plain, died of metastatic melanoma on May 8th with his family by his
side. He was 73.
Born on December 8th, 1947, in Denver, Colorado, Peter grew up on Army posts from the Canal Zone to
Kansas, and in 1958 moved with his mother and three siblings to Charleston, South Carolina. He
graduated from Mount Hermon School in 1965 and Harvard College in 1970, where he played varsity
lacrosse and was a member of the Owl Club. On June 6th, 1970, Peter married Marygrace Davie and they
settled in Boston and then Newton, where they raised their two sons, Christopher and Matthew.
In 1971, having seen an article in the Boston Globe about a fledgling real estate company pioneering the
sustainable redevelopment of rural New England properties, especially old summer camps and farms,
Peter secured an interview with the firm’s founder, Bob Danziger, and landed the job. After a long-
scheduled and extended European honeymoon with Marygrace, he began at Northland Investment
Corporation in the spring of 1972.
Early in his work at Northland, Peter fell in love with, acquired property on, and began spending weeks at
an old lakefront all-girls camp in Maine that he was involved with redeveloping. It would become a
lifelong destination. He and Marygrace built a house on the property in 2003 using reclaimed timbers
from an old typewriter factory; the home is now powered by a recently installed solar tracker. For years,
he was a steward of the lake and its water quality.
When Northland moved into commercial real estate development, Peter led those efforts and -- following
a theme -- focused primarily on the renovation and reuse of existing buildings. With Northland’s
reorganization in 1995, Peter formed Northland Development Corporation, and in 2001 merged with New
Boston Fund to act as its development arm before retiring in 2009. Throughout his professional career, he
loved the often complex logistical challenges of real estate, and excelled at solving them, but he often
mentioned that the most rewarding aspects of his job were the personal relationships he developed.
Retirement allowed more time and travel, both for golf -- a game he deeply loved and respected -- and
birdwatching, a hobby he shared with Marygrace which took them around the world, from Florida to
Antarctica, South Africa, Central America and the Amazon, Norway, the Galapagos Islands, and Cuba.
Both before and after retirement, Peter dedicated his energy to many charitable and community
organizations, including the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, where he served on the board and was
active with its Olmsted Tree Society; Newton-Wellesley Hospital, where he was vice-chair for a period
and is now trustee emeritus; the Newton Community Development Foundation; as a member of the
Facilities and Capital Planning Committee advising the Harvard Corporation; the Massachusetts Audubon
Council; the Pleasant Lake/Parker Pond Association as past President; and the Church of the Good
Shepherd in Waban where he was a member of the Vestry and served as Junior Warden.
He also served on the Board of Governors of The Country Club in Brookline, where he was vice chair of
the 1999 Ryder Cup and the head of Ecology (which he referred to as “trash and toilets”) at the 1988 U.S.
Peter most enjoyed giving his time and effort toward connecting with individuals, whether helping
oversee alumni admission interviews for Harvard College applicants, reading to students at the Dr.
Catherine Ellison/Rosa Parks Early Education School in Mattapan, or mentoring and providing
companionship to fellow melanoma patients.
Peter approached his 2015 cancer diagnosis with typical forthrightness, courage and a good measure of
humor. As the disease spread in late 2017, he faced the prospect of death head-on. He would remark that
the newly opened shower soap may outlast him, but a successful immunotherapy treatment had him still
buying “green bananas”. In describing his circumstance, he wrote in his 50th Reunion Report:
“The experience has not been a battle for me, but a journey, full of spiritual inquiry, examination of life-
long assumptions, a search for common or universal truths and a reach back to what is really important.
Much has been learned and as I reconstitute my life and find replacements for activities that now are
beyond reach, I am exploring widely. Among the places I will carefully search is deep in my heart. I have
come to recognize gratefulness. I am grateful certainly for the additional time on this planet, but much
more importantly to have existed at all.”
Those closest to Peter will always remember his sense of humor, youthful spirit, winning smile, and the
twinkle in his eye. His ability to draw laughter from the occasional joke or prank was exceeded only by
the warmth and comfort all felt in his presence. Even in his final years, as his circle of activities gradually
diminished, he maintained that youthful twinkle. His family and friends will hold dear the wisdom he
imparted often toward the end of his journey: be grateful, and be kind.
Peter is beloved and will be deeply missed by his wife of 50 years, Marygrace, his son Christopher and
his wife Jessica, his son Matthew and his wife Melinda, and their four adored and adoring grandchildren:
Otis, Elizabeth, Revere and Amelia, all of the Boston area; by siblings Kit O’Neill of Seattle, Robert of
Cambridge and Frank of Colorado Springs; by half-sister Jennifer Phillips of Eugene; by sister-in-law
Lesley DeVoe of Tinton Falls; and by a large extended family and multitude of friends.
Memorial donations may be made to Mass. Audubon, designated to the Boston Nature Center, online at
www.massaudubon.org/honorary-memorial-gifts or by mail to Mass Audubon’s Boston Nature Center,
500 Walk Hill Street, Mattapan, MA 02126.