Editor’s note: This story is part of a series about Oklahomans who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read the stories of other Oklahomans here. Have you lost a loved one to COVID-19? Help us tell their story.
Barry Foster was a championship-winning coach, a loving father and grandfather.
He had a way of trying to elevate those around him, family said.
A retired high school football coach of 30 years in west-central Oklahoma, Foster was inducted into the Oklahoma Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2018.
The son of a coach, Barry Foster had a love of all things sports.
“He was a student of the game,” said his wife of 35 years, Lesa Foster. “He played all sports as a kid growing up.”
Barry Foster was born in Pauls Valley and graduated from Lindsay High School in 1979. He attended Eastern Oklahoma State College in Wilburton and East Central University in Ada, and played baseball for both teams.
In 1984, he was hired as a coach in Rush Springs, where he started out coaching baseball, basketball and football before being named assistant football coach.
Barry Foster would coach at Rush Springs for 25 years, helping to lead the football team to a 1A state title in 1998 as assistant coach, before moving on to coach football at Marlow for two years, Cache for two years and one year at Duncan. He retired in 2015.
“He liked to tell people he was ‘happily retired,’” Lesa Foster said.
Many of Barry Foster’s interests revolved around sports.
“Is there anything outside of that? I don’t think so,” Lesa Foster said. “He didn’t didn’t do anything that didn’t end with ‘ball’ on the end of it.”
Barry Foster also was a devoted father of four children and eight grandchildren and a member of the Rush Springs Church of Christ.
He helped guide his children through their own sporting careers, coaching little league teams and later attended all of his grandchildren’s games.
“Barry was involved in whatever they were involved in,” Lesa Foster said. “Whatever they were doing, he was one step behind.”
Barry Foster would often call each of his children to make sure they were safe when severe weather was in the forecast. Even if a storm was 100 miles away, He would send text messages to everyone in the family, which sometimes provoked teasing from loved ones.
Around New Year’s Eve, Barry and Lesa Foster and their youngest son began to feel ill and suspected they might have COVID-19. All three eventually tested positive for the illness.
But after about eight days, it was clear that Barry’s Foster was having a tough time. He had a fever and chills that would not go away.
Lesa Foster took him to the local emergency room where it was discovered he had pneumonia. He was admitted to the hospital, put on oxygen, and soon was feeling better.
But it was only a brief respite. Barry Foster soon took a turn for the worse and was put into intensive care. He had to be resuscitated before being put on a ventilator. He died on Jan. 16 at age 59.
Barry Foster’s illness and death provoked an outpouring of compassion from the many lives the coach had touched over the years. Family set up a Facebook page called “Pray for Coach Foster,” which gathered nearly 2,500 followers in a matter of hours.
“Just the outpouring of love really shows the impact that he did have,” Lesa Foster said.
Coaches, friends, family members and former players all shared stories about their experiences with Barry Foster on the page, which later became his Facebook memorial page
“Coach was an encouraging force in my early life, but he continued to show interest long after I left high school,” one of Barry Foster’s former football players wrote.
After Barry Foster’s death, his wife and other family members reached out to state lawmakers, and asked them to enact legislation to give patients more rights to see loved ones when they are hospitalized.
In response, Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair, and Rep. Toni Hasenbeck, R-Elgin authored a bill called the No Patient Left Alone Act, which allows for any patient to designate a visitor with unrestricted privileges regardless of emergency declarations by the governor or the Legislature. Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the bill into law in April.
“That was very meaningful to be able to do something that is going to help other families,” Lesa Foster said.