Above: The Baribaults turn out in force to honor Dave. From left: Peter Baribault, Dona LeBoeuf, Lauren Hayden, James Baribault, Jill Baribault, Kristin Brooks, Emma Baribault, Kristen Baribault, Mikey Hayden, Ellie Hayden, and Natalia Hayden. Cemetery 95 was Dave’s pet project.
In mid-2016, I received a phone call from a guy named Dave who wanted to clean some cemeteries. He’d recently retired from a career with UPS and had some time on his hands. I met with him and we went to a cemetery on Middle Road that he could volunteer to clean. A few days later he called again wanting another cemetery to clean. I gave him another one. When he called for yet another cemetery to clean, I gave him a map with all the town cemeteries with instructions that if he was to travel across someone’s yard to get to the cemetery, he should knock on the door first. He had no problem meeting and discussing cemeteries with the people who owned the land they were on.
I lost count of the number of graveyards he cleaned, but he was thorough. Not only did he clean and rake, he removed small trees that would become big unwanted trees. He replaced weathered veteran flags. He rebuilt falling stonewalls. For three years, this guy spent some of his recreational time cleaning East Greenwich’s rural historic graveyards. He told me of his experience being questioned by armed members of the National Guard as he cleaned a cemetery across from the Camp Fogarty main gate.
About that time, Paul Haggist, of Exeter, was exploring some land out on the southwest corner of town and found another cemetery. Unlisted until Paul ran across it, we documented it and entered it on the list with the other 94 town cemeteries. With no inscribed stones, we do not know who is buried there. Bill Pine, owner of the land, said he was told many years ago that it was a slave cemetery. Without some research and some luck, we may never know. Early Quakers, perhaps. I went there with Dave and he jumped right into cleaning it and unearthing all the gravestones that he could find. If it was questionably a gravestone, he tied a red ribbon on a stick to mark it. Dave planted some grass seed and some flowers. We put up the sign.
I would get nightly email reports from Dave on what he found digging around up there in 095. It became his “pet” cemetery and got more attention than any other. We met for lunch several times and became good friends. I admired him for his love of the work, the fresh air, the freedom to do a job on his own terms. For several years, Dave trotted about cleaning cemeteries west of South County Trail. It was his neighborhood.
Several times I asked Dave to join the town’s cemetery commission. He would have been perfect to fill the one empty seat but he declined, saying he didn’t want the politics. There really isn’t any politics, frustrations maybe, but I got his point.
And then he got another job driving shuttles for Inskip and the number of cemeteries he cleaned dropped to just one – 095. He told me he was going to go cross country in his motor home. He enjoyed camping in local campgrounds. I would often get reports from Dave on his adventures. Then after a while the emails stopped coming.
That was Dave Baribault, outdoorsman, camping and fishing enthusiast, and cemetery volunteer extraordinaire. Some weeks ago I got an email from a member of the town cemetery commission that Dave had died on Sept. 1 after several months of hospitalizations and health challenges. He was 62.
On Sunday morning, Oct. 18, Dave’s family gathered at East Greenwich Cemetery 095 to pick up where Dave left off, the first of what they hope will become annual cleanups in his honor. I met with the family and admired their enthusiasm to continue Dave’s work. Eleven of Dave’s kin brought all sorts of equipment from rakes to leaf blowers to get 095 back to the condition that Dave had left it. I know, this is 2020 and it’s a hard thing to get 11 people to do anything together, but there they were, honoring the memory of a really good man.
There’s always the need for help with the town’s historical cemeteries. Probably due in part to Covid-19, little effort is spent getting out and cleaning these resting places of the people who were here before us. If you want to help in any way, call Deron Murphy at (401) 644-7518 and we’ll get you started.
Alan Clarke is a Kent County representative of the R. I. Advisory Commission on Historic Cemeteries (and a member of the EG News board).