On those days when discouraged about the course of Memphis events and with questions about the future that seem to have few answers, I always find encouragement in the realization that the real strength of Memphis does not reside in the halls of government or the board rooms of corporate leaders, but in the simple lives of extraordinarily men and women who labor quietly and without fanfare for the good of the community.

Barry Hartzog was just such a person.

Today, Memphis is just a little less Memphis. He died Friday.

Only a fortunate few knew him personally, but most of us benefited from his passion for the Memphis Zoo, where he worked for the last decade and a half. He was part of the “Goldsmith’s Mafia” assembled by the department store chain’s former executive Roger Knox when he took the reins of the new foundation which would manage Memphis’ most popular family attraction.

Together, with Mr. Knox, Barry Hartzog brought a distinctly retail attitude toward zoo operations, and it was part of their wisdom that they never saw any conflict between a profit-minded zoo and its overriding ecological mission.

But Barry brought more than just a customer focus to his work at the zoo. Every day, he brought every thing that he had to give, working long into the night to make sure a special event had just the right dazzle for the public, that the kids at the zoo’s Halloween event would remember it for years to come and that no one entered the zoo without the promise of special memories.

Somehow, it is more than fitting that the last minutes of his 63 years were spent on a ladder getting yet another holiday event ready for zoo visitors.

Barry was largely responsible for the special ambiance of Zoo Rendezvous, one of the most wildly successful benefits ever staged by any local organization, and year after year, he thought of new, artistic ways to make it even more fun (and more profitable). But at the end of the day, he was devoted to families having a good time at the zoo, because it was through their support and tickets that the animals received their best care.

And, he cared deeply about animals. At home, the animals were cats, and few have ever been brought into such a fortuitous situation.

He loved his art: to buy it and to paint it.

And he loved even more getting involved in his neighborhood, whether it was as an active leader in his neighborhood association, in his crusade against smoking in local restaurants, in driving elderly neighbors to the doctor and taking others to church. It always seemed that in finding time for every one else, he seemed to find himself.

To those who knew him, the zoo stands as a shrine to his determination to make it one of the best in the country, but the true testimony to his character is found on his own street where he quite simply, day in and day out, exemplified what Memphians are all about.

Tonight (Thursday) at 6 p.m., there will be a memorial for Barry at his favorite place in Memphis (and the place he made special for all of us) — the zoo.