Michael Duane Barbee, a Rio Americano High graduate and UCLA football player, died of a heart attack at age 57 on Jan. 7 in San Diego, where he had lived for 32 years.
Born on Dec. 10, 1959, Barbee was known as a big man with an engaging smile and gentle personality.
Barbee attended both Christian Brothers and Rio Americano high schools, playing football at both, and graduated from Rio in 1978. A defensive lineman, he was named to the All City football team in 1978 and played in the Optimist All-Star Football game, where he was voted defensive team captain.
Barbee was awarded a football scholarship to UCLA, and participated in four bowl games with the team. In 1982, Barbee started at defensive end all 12 games of the season and in the Rose Bowl against Michigan, which UCLA won 24-14. At 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighing 275 pounds, Barbee tried out for several NFL and Canadian Football League teams, but never played professionally.
In 1983, Barbee graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and, two years later, moved to San Diego.
His sister, Diane Barbee, called him a “relationship builder.”
“He knew how to have lasting friendships; that was his gift. He knew how to talk to people. He was the gentle giant,” Barbee said.
Michael Barbee began work in youth counseling, work that he felt was his “calling.” He developed and coordinated programs for at-risk middle school students in the San Diego area. He also became a peer adviser in the Student Opportunity and Access Program in San Diego. In 1991, Barbee earned a master’s degree in education with an emphasis on counseling from San Diego State University.
He worked as an adjunct counselor at both Miramar Community College and Grossmont College, in the San Diego area.
He eventually went to work for John Hancock Co. selling insurance and financial investment products, as his father, Joseph, had. But his first love remained working with teenagers.
His mother, Carol, said, “He found his passion in counseling, working with young African American men. That’s what he loved to do. He just wanted to help others and let his light shine.”
Michael Barbee is survived by his mother, Carol Barbee of Sacramento, and sister, Diane Barbee of Birmingham, Ala.
Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Morgan Jones Funeral Home, 4200 Broadway, Sacramento. Flowers and cards can be sent to Morgan Jones Funeral Home.