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CF.C Exclusive: Sister, mom speak out, paint the true picture of Robert Barber

LINA BARBER-TUIA is tough. She spent 10 months in Iraq as a member of the Texas Army National Guard. And in 2009, when a tsunami wiped out many of the homes of family and friends back in America Samoa, she hopped on a plane to help with the rebuild. She talks about it all matter-of-factly. But when the subject turns to her baby brother, Washington State senior Robert Barber, the emotion pours out.

Grateful is the word the married mother of two keeps coming back to.

She’s grateful for the support her brother has received from Jack Thompson, Mike Baumgartner, the moms of Cougar football players, her brother Mike in Puyallup, the Polynesian community across Washington and so many others who have advocated for Robert in his travails with the WSU Conduct Board.

She’s grateful for the “wonderful coaches, especially Joe Salavea’a and his wife Josie,” for the support they’ve given Robert since he arrived on campus in 2012.

“As the oldest girl in the house when Robert was born, he became my baby,” says Lina, who is 12 years older than Robert. “I practically raised him.”

Robert’s role in the July 23 off-campus melee that landed him at the center of what has become a university-wide controversy cannot be excused, she says. But the punishment needs to be fair, not punitive.

Asked what she would like Cougar Nation to know about her 22-year-old brother, she doesn’t hesitate.

“My kids (ages 5 and 3) absolutely love Robert because he’s such a good person and positive presence. He's really a big kid at heart. The idea that he’s someone with anger management issues is just not so … Robert cares about the welfare of others, especially those he is close to,” she told in a telephone interview Sunday from her home in central Texas.

“That’s the type of person he is. I know he has basically opened his place at WSU to all the incoming Samoan freshmen – food, clothes, shoes, he shares everything because he knows what it’s like not to have much.

“He’s proud of his Samoan heritage and what that means -- looking out for one another and caring for the entire community,” she added.

That sense of we’re-all-in-this-together comes naturally to Robert given the way the family was raised, she said.

Robert is the youngest of eight children born to Loimata and Taumafai Barber and everyone -- especially the aunts -- helped raise the clan.

Asked how the 2005 death of their father affected Robert, who was in sixth grade at the time, Lina pauses.

“I felt so bad for him since he was the youngest and was the closest to Dad. Throughout school sports, Robert would always say how awesome it would have been to have Dad cheering him on," she said.

The two weren’t just close, she says. Her father was a role model in every sense -- a former Marine with a tireless work ethic, a leader in the LDS Church, a village High Chieftain, and a teacher and administrator in the school system.

Robert’s mom -- with Lina serving as translator -- echoed those comments to via text message Sunday.

“He was his Dad's shadow, Dad's arms and legs. Everywhere Dad went, Robert was always by his side to aid him. Dad would tend the plantation, and feed the pigs- Robert was there. At a young age, Dad would let Robert drive the truck,” Loimata said.

“Dad is a Marine veteran so he had regular VA appointments in Hawaii and he would travel and take Robert with him. Because Dad's position required a lot of travel on island, Robert would accompany his Dad to church functions, activities, and services.”

Robert grew up very respectful of others, especially elders, and understood the importance of community, Loimata said.

“He loves to help others including his teachers throughout elementary and high school. He was never in trouble. He never got into fights. He's never the type of person who argues or get into fights with others.”

And how would you describe Robert?

“He’s a funny kid. He loves to joke around. Robert is loving and caring toward his peers, family, elders and others, just like Dad. He loves to dance just like Dad. They both love sports. He is a happy, down to earth just like Dad.

In regard to Robert’s role in the off-campus melee and the subsequent tumult with the WSU Conduct Board, his mom is straight forward:

“I am humbled and apologetic for Robert's wrongdoing. I asked for forgiveness of Robert's misconduct. Only God knows all, but I do not believe Robert was treated fairly with the extreme punishment,” she said, quickly adding that her concern with the Conduct Board situation doesn’t detract from her deep appreciation for Mike Leach, Joe Salave’a, faculty members and teachers who have put her youngest son in position to graduate from college.

COMING NEXT: goes one-on-one with Robert Barber

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