Giffords' staffer Ron Barber returns to work

CREATED Jul 5, 2011

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Reporter: Steve Nuñez

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – Ron Barber, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords District Director, returned to work for the first time today. It's been nearly six months since he was shot twice, once in the cheek and once in the thigh, during the January 8th mass shooting.

Giffords’ staff members greeted Barber with hearty cheers as he walked through the doors this morning.

Pam Simon was the first staffer to embrace him. Simon is also one of thirteen people who survived the mass shooting. She, too, was shot twice, once in the chest and once in the wrist.

“We'll never be normal again but it felt like it was beginning to close the healing,” said an emotional Simon.

After the two embraced, Barber also began wiping away tears.

“It was very emotional, I was a little bit nervous,” said Barber. “The staff has been through a lot too but there's a special relationship between those of us who were shot that day.”

With life and so much to celebrate, Barber then hugged the eleven employees he supervises to mark his official return to work.

“So I'm thrilled to be back with them to help in some way,” said Barber.

For Barber, his return to work part-time will be a physical test for his recovery. The 65-year old still has limited feeling in his leg.

Emotionally, he’ll face the same realization, experienced by all other staff members, that his colleague Gabe Zimmerman is no longer part of the team. Zimmerman was one of six people killed in the mass shooting.

“Gabe not being here is just a big hole in all of our hearts,” said Barber. “A staff amidst all of their grief and sorrow has done an amazing job doing the Congresswoman's job while she's in rehab.”

But the more immediate challenge he’ll face is the practical test of mending and rebuilding Giffords’ team to help them keep up with the increased number of people asking for assistance. 

In nearly six months, staff members have assisted 950 people including veterans, active-duty military, seniors and constituents struggling to make ends meet.

Staff members partnered with U.S. Rep. Ted Poe of Texas, a Republican, to push through and pass cell phone legislation to improve emergency communications for border residents living in rural areas.

And, they secured swift transportation for a Tucson woman stranded in Egypt during its pro-democracy demonstrations.

“I'll spend as long as each individual wants in the next couple of days and then I'll have a good inventory of what we need to do,” said Barber.

The theme of Barber's return: confidence, courage and hope. Words Barber said will describe a day better than today, when his boss walks through those same doors.

“And she'll (Giffords) be doing the job she's always done even with more gusto for the citizens.”

Giffords' office claims it handles about 2,700 cases per year. That’s almost four times the number of any other congressional member in the House of Representatives.