Remembering Mr. Happy, Johnny Barnes

By Kristin White

Every weekday morning, rain or shine, Mr. Johnny Barnes stood at the busiest intersection in Bermuda for hours to wave and greet commuters as they came into the City of Hamilton for work. He’d yell out, “I love you! I love you! God Bless You!”; and even the surliest passenger on the dreariest Monday would smile and honk their car horn back at him. Mr. Barnes became synonymous with Bermudian friendliness, a tourism icon and ambassador.

On July 9, 2016, at the age of 93, Mr. Johnny Barnes passed away. The entire island as well as people from around the world mourned his passing and reflected on his life and legacy.

Mr. Barnes originally worked on the Bermuda Railway trains in the 1940s and started waving at people on his lunch hour. He saw the positive reactions, and so, when he retired years later, he decided one morning to stand at Crow Lane to greet commuters. That was in 1986, and he continued for just about 30 years, right up until December 2015.

Mr. Barnes inspired many works of art, including an online film, Mr. Happy. In his memory and honour, a bronze statue of him was erected just a stone’s throw from where he used to stand. There was also an “I Love You” art movement that was started in the U.K. by a former Bermuda resident who was inspired to spread Barnes’s message.

Upon his death, tributes poured in from around the globe, including an obituary in The Guardian. People took a pledge to ensure his message of love and happiness would not slip away. Although Mr. Barnes is no longer with us, his memory and words will always live on. As he would say, “Life is sweet… life is beautiful. No matter what happens, it is sweet to be alive.”

Photo: Bermuda Tourism Authority