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Thrift store worker touched many lives

Barbara Huff and fiance Ernie Ward
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Barbara Huff’s parents called her Bunny. At the Salvation Army’s thrift shop in Grass Valley where she worked, some people called her The Hat Lady. With her bright smile and cheerful demeanor, Huff was someone who always had a friendly word for anyone – friends and strangers alike.

What most Salvation Army customers didn’t know, however, was that beneath Huff’s fanciful hats was a bald head, the result of cancer treatment. She fought one cancer, and then another, always hopeful, but the disease struck yet again and finally took her life this year on Nov. 26. She was 60.

Perhaps one of the four children who called Huff her favorite name – Mom – can best describe the effect she had on people.



“She had a special relationship with so many people,” said Huff’s daughter, Renee’ Pazos of Penn Valley. “She was able to look beyond the surface of people. She was a good judge of character.”

Huff and her daughter shared a love of shopping in thrift stores, so when Huff was able to get a job at the Salvation Army’s thrift store, she was thrilled. Being able to laugh with customers while surrounded by the treasure trove of items that pack the shelves was an ideal career fit. She delighted in buying things others had donated – a character trait that extended to her ability to find the best in any person who walked in the door.




Some of the people who knew Huff at the Salvation Army might have been shunned by another type of person. Pazos said that Huff’s inclusiveness was one of the best aspects of her personality.

“She treated everybody well, whether the person was a behavioral health client or a doctor – she treated them the same,” Pazos said. “She talked to people and was genuinely interested in them and they knew that.”

If that sounds like a loving daughter missing her mom, listen to what David Pazos had to say about his mother-in-law:

“The biggest impact she made on me was seeing that she never really judged anybody. She accepted people for who they were. Since she’s passed away, I find myself thinking ‘I would like to be more like that.’ I don’t want to pre-judge anybody. Everyone left a better person after meeting her.”

Paul Kirby, manager trainee at the Salvation Army, used to work for Huff. Now he has her job. Her remembers her as “a character,” and said this week that Huff was well liked by customers and staff.

“People thought she was so stylish in here, wearing her hats and scarves,” Kirby said. They didn’t know the real reason for her fashion choices.

She managed to find the humor in every situation, even dying, using her dry sense of humor to put others at ease. Pazos remembers her mother laughing during her last days, getting a manicure and joking about making sure her hands would show in the casket.

Ernie Ward, Huff’s significant other, proposed to her, buying her an exquisite diamond ring. The couple had an unofficial wedding ceremony in the activities room of the Transitional Care Unit of Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. The TCU nurses turned the drab activities room into a wedding wonderland, even decorating Huff’s wheelchair with flowers and garlands. And although Huff’s family really didn’t have time to invite many people, the word got out. There was standing room only for the emotional ceremony.

So now, less than two weeks after Huff’s death, her family struggles to get through their days without her, recalling the words of George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life”: “No man is a failure who has friends.” Those words comfort Pazos, whose Mom was the consummate friend.

“She didn’t have assets, stocks, bonds or a house – but she had a wealth of friends. She was one of the richest women I know.”

A celebration of Barbara Huff’s life will be held Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Banner Grange at 12629 McCourtney Road in Grass Valley. For more information, call 432-9248.

To suggest a loved one or family member for an expanded obituary – Life Lived – e-mail


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