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Letter: Compeer volunteer will be sorely missed

Compeer volunteer will be sorely missed

My friend Barry Fiume died on Sept. 6, tragically in a house fire. Barry was a volunteer for 31 years with Compeer, a mental health friendship and mentoring program. A local TV news channel reported that Barry had “mental issues” and a couple of “run-ins” with the Cheektowaga police. What right did anyone have to disclose his medical history to the public? This wonderful, sweet, generous man lived his life the very best he could. His mental health issues did not define him.

When I met Barry in 1986, he told me he had schizophrenia. He asked if that would prevent him from being accepted as a volunteer. Barry was a wonderful volunteer and an incredible advocate for mental health, Compeer and his Compeer friend. They were two guys, who each needed a friend 30-plus years ago. It was not that easy in 1986 to make friends when you had a serious mental health diagnosis.

Barry and his friend were both brilliant, funny and, from time to time, bothered by the disruptive and sometimes painful symptoms of mental illness. They looked out for one another and became best friends. Barry found a safe place among the Compeer friends to talk about his illness.

Schizophrenia is a mental illness that can cause people to have hallucinations or delusions. People can experience radical changes in their thinking and behavior. Sometimes medication no longer works and these debilitating symptoms take over.

So, yes, Barry may have had “issues” and “run-ins.” But in my opinion, sharing that information was wrong. Barry always strived to live a productive and worthwhile life. He will be greatly missed by all of his friends.

Michele Brown

Executive Director, Compeer


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