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Issue 1561 November 25, 2012
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WHO IS BARLEY MACTAVISH? Midlanders Get Help From Anonymous Scotsman

November 23, 2012       1 Comments
By: Dave Rogers

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Midland residents in need often turn to the helping hand offered by an anonymous Scotsman, Barley MacTavish.

Who said there is no Santa Claus?

Midland residents in need often turn to the helping hand offered by an anonymous Scotsman, Barley MacTavish.

Santa often is hard to find, being up at the North Pole and all, and his generosity being impacted by fear of the fiscal cliff and ungenerous attitudes making the rounds of some Americans these days.

Who is Barley MacTavish?

I always suspected he might have been much like the eccentric Bay Cityan a stockbroker friend of mine told me about.

The extent of this man's generous impulses were unknown, unlike Barley, but he had the wherewithal to be a Barley MacTavish if he wished.

The stockbroker would hear from -- let's call him Barney McGinnis -- at least once a year in the late fall. "Pick me up on Center Avenue at the usual place and we'll go for coffee; I'll buy," Barney said magnanimously.

Standing there in the wind and cold, the shabbily dressed Barney would be clutching a large brown paper bag.

"No one would ever suspect Barney was a millionaire," the broker told me. "He certainly didn't look the part and he lived very plainly in an apartment somewhere -- he would never tell me exactly where. I always had to mail his checks to a post office box."

Arriving at their destination, usually the Red Lion Restaurant, Barney would systematically go through the paper bag and submit each document (hundreds of valuable stocks and bond certificates) for joint perusal by he and the broker, with discussion on the value and wisdom of selling or holding each of them.

While he met with his broker and the pair drank coffee, Barney would surreptitiously take a smaller brown bag from the big bag and munch quietly on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich he had brought from home.

"He was the shrewdest investor I ever knew; like Midas everything he touched turned to gold," said my stockbroker friend.

I never found out any more about Barney McGinnis and my friend has disappeared from Midland. But the story of Barley MacTavish arose recently in my awareness and I was fascinated by the apparent differences between the two, Barney and Barley.

All I ever knew for sure was that during his lifetime Barney was not known as a generous man, but Barley was exactly the opposite. Barley was generous to a fault and remains so after decades of giving to his fellow man.

The Midland Daily News administers the Barley MacTavish program, reporting recently that the fund is thriving. "We've had a busy year - even busier than last year. That's because a lot of people wrote to me requesting help with bills they were struggling to pay. Also, the Barley MacTavish Fund has continued to receive donations from a number of generous people, enabling me to fill requests for many deserving people."

You see, Barley, with help from his longtime friend Norman "Slim" Rumple, publisher of the Midland Daily News, established the fund with an initial gift, with donations to be managed by the paper. People in Midland in need of utility payments or other emergencies could apply and perhaps have those needs met.

Over nearly a quarter century, the Barley fund has continued and now is a community project.

The Barley MacTavish Fund was established over 23 years ago by an anonymous donor, and it continues today with private support from area residents, according to the paper.

During the Christmas donation period last year the Barley MacTavish Fund received a total of $17,735 from 80 donors, the newspaper reported, elaborating:

"People continue to seek help with their rent, car repair bills, energy bills and other necessities. Between Nov. 1, 2010 and Oct. 31, 2011, the Barley MacTavish program gave financial help to 80 individuals. For the same time period one year earlier, we helped 79 individuals. (Each year, we receive some requests that we do not fill, for various reasons.)

"Of course, we respond to requests for help all year, not just during the Christmas season."

We don't know what ever happened to Barney McGinnis. He may have been the obscure Bay Cityan, a thrifty former industrial worker, who left his fortune to benefit residents of the city a few years ago for all we know.

Barney, it was said, had the money to have lived in Palm Beach if he wished; but he loved Bay City and its people no matter what their social or financial status, according to the stockbroker. Kind of like Barley who felt the same about the people of Midland.

At this time of year perhaps we all can decide whether we want to be like Barney, giving little in life to maximize his bequest to people after he is gone; or like Barley who established his fund during his lifetime and no doubt watches it thrive from heaven.

Barley is not really anonymous. If you want to know who he really was, read Dow historian Ned Brandt's book published by Michigan State University Press. It's entitled "Chairman of the Board," and tells the amazing story of one of corporate America's most noble leaders, Carl Gerstacker, who died in 1995. ###

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"The BUZZ" - Read Feedback From Readers!

jeannieangel39 Says:       On December 29, 2013 at 08:00 PM
I wrote to Barley McTavish before christmas but have yet to hear from him to know if no help or to help. I don't live in Midland but my son does, Should I rewrite my letter to him.
Agree? or Disagree?

Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at

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