At a packed memorial service and downtown party, Orlando’s LGBT community mourned the loss of John Barber, who died on Oct. 17 of a rare and aggressive form of cancer. He was just 38.
Barber was an award-winning hair stylist whose many clients included Karen Dyer, wife of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. But he was best known as “Tweeka,” the outrageous drag persona he developed in his youth.
“Tweeka is my other half; my other persona. She doesn’t compromise,” Barber said in Tweeka Graduates, which can be viewed on YouTube and shows his graduation from the University of South Florida in 1995.
Tweeka performed at numerous club and special events throughout Florida, many benefitting local non-profits and charities. But Barber was beloved by many for his generous spirit and high-energy approach to life.
“I am saddened by John’s passing. He and his family have been close friends of mine and my wife for over 20 years,” said Mayor Dyer. “No one lived life to the fullest more than John. Anyone who knew him will carry his memory forever.”
Dyer was one of many notables who attended a standing-room-only celebration of Barber’s life at Church of the Messiah in Winter Garden on Friday, Oct. 21. Orange County Commissioner Scott Boyd and former Commissioner Vera Carter were also present to pay their respects to the son of former Winter Garden Mayor Bob Barber.
“People like John – so full of life and love and joy – aren’t supposed to die. People like John aren’t even supposed to get sick,” said Pastor Billy Brath. “My gosh, if he went to bed before 2 a.m. people worried.”
Brath, Pastor at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, said that Barber asked him to speak at the service “because he wanted you all to know he is happy and at peace.”
“He’s gone – from cancer and pain, and also hatred and bigotry and all of the bad things of this world,” said Pastor Brath. “He’s gone to freedom.”
Sam Singhaus and Blue Starr sang “Over the Rainbow” as family and friends filed out of the church, many singing along.
Hundreds more celebrated Barber’s life at an “After” Party at Stardust Lounge near Lake Eola on Sunday, Oct. 23. Attendees joined in a candlelight vigil and watched a slide show of Barber’s life before Bobbi Jones sang Gospel music. Items were auctioned off for the John Barber Fund. Karen Dyer and Starr remembered their friend.
“He was such an amazing soul who touched so many people,” said Starr. “He had the ability to make every person he came in contact with feel special.”