Small Models, Big Impact

Barry Roberson found peace and purpose where he least expected it – in miniature dollhouses.

He arrived at his last appointment with Dr. Sanjay Iyer carrying a house he built to honor the Georgia Bulldogs. “I learned he was from Georgia, and this model just came to me. Dr. Iyer listens and believes in me – I’ve never had that with a neurologist. My last doctor just didn’t have time for conversation.”

Barry was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease ten years ago at 55 years old. His doctor at the time told him he had 4 -7 years to live. “I was mad at God. My father was a good man and he died of ALS. I’ve tried to be faithful and now I have Parkinson’s. I rode around in my golf cart yelling at God. And I heard a response. God told me to build dollhouses. I didn’t believe my ears so I yelled again, and I heard it again. So I built a dollhouse, and it was just busy work. I hated it.”

Barry’s wife Dawn explains, “He needed a purpose. He built another dollhouse, this time for a child at church who had cancer.”

That one wasn’t busy work. And it got the attention of local media.

“I started getting calls from organizations like the Pediatric Cardiology Foundation at LSU. They wanted to auction a dollhouse to raise money to pay for kids’ surgeries. Greg Olsen requested one for his charity. I built a few for tornado victims in Oklahoma. Reba McIntyre asked for a barn for her Reba’s Ranch House charity. I made a 54” long model of her barn, and that got a lot of attention. I’ve done a few sports stadiums. In the last ten years I’ve built over 200 models – Dr. Iyer’s is number 202.”

The most satisfying ones are those that don’t get attention. Barry turns down a lot of requests, even from celebrities, and he never accepts payment. “I only do them for causes that need my help, or people I care about.” He built a golf course for a friend. “We’d planned to go to the British Open together but couldn’t because of his age and my health. So I built a course for him that incorporated elements of all the tournaments we’d seen together.”

Barry’s noticed something unexpected. When he’s building a model, his tremor disappears. “I can draw a straight line. I get into the zone…that’s God. I don’t know how to do this, it just comes to me.”

He smiles at his wife of 42 years. “Dawn and these models have kept me alive. It’s unreal how when you finish one thing, something else just comes along.”

A Note from Dr. Iyer

There is a scientific explanation for Barry’s observation that his tremors disappear while he’s building. He really is “in the zone.”  When we’re calm and relaxed and doing something we love, the body releases natural dopamine – the very chemical a person with Parkinson’s needs – and tremors stop.