A dirge for a toon
We note with a degree of sadness (which he probably would laugh off) the unexpected death of Barry McWilliams, 79, whose cartoons have enlivened this page for more than 40 years.
Barry didn’t live here but kept up with news from here, frequently created custom cartoons for our pages in addition to more generic offerings for 1,500 other newspapers worldwide, and even spoke to Marion Elementary students once upon a time about his passion for editorial cartooning.
Barry’s life was as diverse as his cartoons. Born into what he called an immigrant home — three rooms of wall-to-wall mattresses shared by three families on the West Coast — he taught English on an Indian reservation, trained horses, drove trucks, and eventually became an ad salesman and photographer for a Montana weekly before becoming a full-time cartoonist.
Broke, he set out in his car with his last $20 for gas and sought out what he thought were prominent local newspapers for which he could create locally focused cartoons. The Record was among his earliest clients, publishing what at the time were labeled J.P. Doodles cartoons.
As his client base grew, he led an inspiringly adventuresome life. He hitchhiked around Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War to interview soldiers, joined a government trade mission to Asia, declared himself “shipwrecked” off the southern coast of Australia, and helped mastermind America’s biggest cattle drive in a hundred years.
Barry was at work at his home studio in Pipestone, Montana, up until his death. Minutes before collapsing from a heart attack, he emailed the cartoon that appears on this week’s page, adding this note:
“Me yet again… I’m also sending this summerish cartoon that depicts GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE with small business — a popular topic of discussion in most small towns, eh??? Yep, it combines a rip-off on DOLLAR STORES, using a kid NICKEL variation, & government overreach — where any reach is over!”
Like Alex Trebek’s appearances on “Jeopardy!” Barry’s work won’t immediately vanish. He typically produced several cartoons weekly and created a large back-catalog of his work, from which we will draw until a replacement is selected.
He even wrote his own death notice, which he instructed one of his children to send out upon his “sudden if any demise.”
“I love,” son Colin McWilliams wrote, “that he wrote it and signed my name to it, but closed it by having ME quote HIM. Incorrigible to the end…:)”
“It’s with a very heavy heart that I announce that my dad, Barry th’ Cartoonist, died of total heart failure. His last words were: ‘Pick yer poison!’”
— ERIC MEYER