Bobby Lee Barfield, 68, led church's youth program

Year after year, the days leading up to Christmas were red letter days on Bobby Barfield's calendar.

Many were the times he dressed up in an elf costume to play Olaf, the character he conceived as Santa's chief assistant, and handed out presents to the children of his Atlanta church.

It became his custom to lead his church's youth group in bringing fruit baskets to shut-ins and serenading them with Christmas carols.

He took delight in annually decorating his home with several Christmas trees and his collection of 40-plus Santa statues.

And all his life he yearned in vain for a white Christmas -- until finally he experienced one just last month.

Bobby Lee Barfield, 68, died of cancer Monday at his Douglasville home. A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Jan. 23, at Collins Memorial United Methodist Church. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the church at 2220 Bolton Road N.W., Atlanta GA 30318. Couch, Garner and Cole Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

Brought up in the Bolton community, Mr. Barfield got a job at age 17 bagging groceries, his first in a 50-year grocery career. From there, he worked his way up to store manager; then he switched to a food brokerage.

"Dad would set up displays of new product lines in A&P grocery stores and later in Publix supermarkets," said his daughter, Tonya Barfield of Douglasville. "He traveled as far away as Huntsville, Ala., and Nashville, Tenn., to arrange frozen food and dairy sections for new Publix stores before their grand openings."

After business hours, he was a mainstay at Collins Memorial, serving on numerous committees, heading the Men's Club and singing tenor in the choir, sometimes soloing. What he seemed to enjoy the most, though, was his longtime leadership of the church's Methodist Youth Fellowship program.

One of his many former MYF youngsters, Greg Carlton of Brevard, N.C., said it took a long time before they realized what a great influence Mr. Barfield had been.

"He had so much patience and love for us crazy and unappreciative teenagers," Mr. Carlton said.

One indicator of how much Mr. Barfield meant was the turnout for a recent 30-year reunion of Mr. Carlton's MYF contemporaries. "Practically everybody showed up," he said. "Many of us remained connected to him."

In the 1970s Mr. Barfield helped form a 1950s-style rock band at the church called B.O. Bully and the Krystal Kritters.

"Bobby didn't play an instrument, but he was one of the lead vocalists, and the Bully name referred to him," said a longtime friend, David Duke of Lilburn. "It was a nickname by which he was widely known ever since he was a smallish teenager who chased several toughs out of the Bolton schoolyard with a hockey stick."

For several years the band played at special functions, including a "Save the Fox" benefit in the theater's Egyptian Ballroom. In October 2009, Mr. Barfield and other Krystal Kritters got back together and performed at the Collins Memorial church's 100th anniversary celebration.

Other survivors include his mother, Thelma Barfield of Austell; and two brothers, Larry Barfield of Douglasville and Randy Barfield of Lawrenceville.