James Barry Corbet, your editor's father, passed away on December 18,
2004. To say that he will be greatly missed is an understatement; he lived
a life which was full in the extreme, and he touched the lives of a great
many others. This is a sad time.
Barry grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. He attended Dartmouth
College, but never completed his degree; instead, he moved to Wyoming to
pursue his great loves of that time: skiing and mountaineering. He married
Mary French, and was father to three children: Jonathan, Jennifer, and
He was in the group which performed the first ascent of the Southwest Rib
of Denali. He was a member of the 1963 American Everest expedition, where
he helped place the highest camp on the West Ridge ascent and lost one of
his best friends to an avalanche; he also helped to film the whole
exercise. With John Evans, he made the first ascent of Mount Tyree in
Antarctica. If certain
accounts are to be believed, he participated in an expedition to plant
surveillance hardware in the Himalayas to monitor China's nuclear missile
Barry also worked as a ski instructor in Jackson Hole; the infamous ski run
Couloir was named after him. He started the Jackson Hole Mountain
Guides, and a mountaineering store as well. He joined Roger Brown's Summit
Films, and the two of them created a classic series of ski movies,
including the seminal Ski the Outer Limits.
Much of this came to an end in 1968. While filming a ski event in Aspen,
his helicopter crashed, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Many
people would have responded to such an event with depression and surrender;
Barry Corbet was never one of those people, however. He built a new life
for himself in a new house in the Colorado mountains. He continued making
films, traveled around the country, and, increasingly, began to write. He
learned to kayak, to the point of being able to roll up even without the
vital hip muscles normally required for that maneuver. He spent three
weeks rafting down the Grand Canyon, got dumped into
the Colorado River when his raft flipped in Lava Falls, and swam his way
out. He went to Korea to watch his daughter compete in the Olympics.
Disability was another mountain to climb. Barry accepted that challenge
without hesitation, despite his full knowledge that he would have to climb
for the rest of his life and still never catch sight of the summit. He
wanted to show the world how far he could get. As time went on, however,
he left this phase (which he called "supercrip") behind and turned his
attention to helping others cope with disability. He traveled across the
U.S., talking to spinal cord injury victims and learning how they had
rebuilt their lives; the result was a book called Options, a
concentrated distillation of experience with spinal cord injury. The
message from Options was clear: it is possible to live a good
life with disability.
Other books and films followed, along with a long period as the editor of
New Mobility magazine. He feared no
topics; his article
on life with ventilators attracted much attention, but the annual
issue on sex and disability was often the most controversial. Consider this
classic quote from the Associated press:
Barry Corbet and Larry Flynt have at least three things in
common. Both use wheelchairs. Both are in the magazine
business. And both have been accused of peddling filth.
New Mobility has put up a collection of Barry's
articles which is worth a read.
Barry's end came sooner than he had expected, but far later than anybody
would have predicted after his injury in 1968. He ended his life as he
lived it: in his own house, surrounded by family and dear friends, and on
his own terms. In a letter sent to people he loved, he wrote:
I've had love overflowing, impassioned careers, a life of adventure
and everything I've ever wanted. Nothing missed and no regrets.
Barry's accomplishments in his life are amazing. But what your editor
remembers most is a loving father who insisted that his children be
prepared and willing to follow their dreams, wherever they may lead them,
and despite any obstacles that may appear in the way. He was an example of
what life can be when it is truly lived without compromise. There is a
huge empty space where Barry Corbet used to be, but the memories live on in
the minds of the many people whose lives he touched.
A web site is being created at BarryCorbet.com for stories and photos.
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