Celebrating the New Campus Hub
By Martha Hunter Shepard ’66
Photography by Robert Benson
A Remarkable Story
Paul Barret, Jr. graduated from Rhodes in 1946 with a B.A. in history. The chairman of Barretville Bank & Trust Co., now Trustmark National Bank north of Memphis, died in November 1999 after a long illness. His legacy to Rhodes and the people of Shelby County is immeasurable. Through the good offices of Barret’s longtime friends and business associates Graves C. Leggett and John P. Douglas ’48, trustees for the Paul Barret, Jr. Testamentary Trust, and Lewis Donelson ’38, attorney for the trust, Rhodes College now celebrates the opening of the Paul Barret, Jr. Library, and countless organizations in Shelby County, TN, are benefiting from the trust’s seemingly boundless generosity.
Barret told the trustees before his death that he wanted them to “remember Southwestern,” the name of the college from 1925-84. President William E. Troutt consequently met with trustees Leggett and Douglas several times. In their initial conversations they discussed establishing scholarships at Rhodes in Barret’s memory. More meetings followed.
"It became increasingly clear that a physical memorial would be the most meaningful way to preserve the memory of Paul Barret, Jr. on campus,” said Troutt.
In March 2000, Rhodes invited Richard W. Boss of Information Systems Consultants Inc., Kensington, MD, to investigate the possibility of expanding or renovating Burrow Library to meet the college’s needs. Boss recommended more than doubling the library space, but cautioned that renovation would be prohibitive due to disruption of services during construction at Burrow as well as at nearby buildings. The overriding concern among faculty and administration was: How do we create a modern library, one that provides adequate space and flexibility for today and the future?
“Robert Johnson, vice president of Information Services, shared Boss’s conclusions—that there was no way to renovate and expand Burrow to meet those needs,” Troutt said. “A new library would cost as much as $40 million. The situation was becoming critical. I heard clearly from the campus community that this was our most critical need.
“I asked the architects for a rendering of what a new library might look like and showed it to Graves and John. The potential appearance began to capture their imagination, and after much discussion they agreed to a $20 million commitment.
“I received permission to share this wonderful commitment with the Rhodes Trustees at their January retreat, but when chairman Spence Wilson’s mother suffered a serious accident just prior to the meeting, he could not attend and the announcement was deferred.”
During the next months the financial markets went into a serious slump and Troutt became concerned about being unable to raise the additional funds in a timely manner. After much thought, he decided to go back and ask the Barret trustees to fund the entire project. An extra $15 million, he reasoned, could earn enough to fund the $40 million library when construction was completed. With the idea of a memorial firmly in mind, Troutt told the trustees that there would be no other names on the building. It would be Paul Barret, Jr.’s building, and no one else’s.
After that meeting, two long weeks passed with no response to Troutt’s proposal. There was no written commitment from the trust at that point, and Troutt was concerned the already-committed $20 million might be in peril. Then one day Donelson called.
“Are you sitting down?” he asked. “John and Graves have decided to commit the full $35 million.”
On April 30, 2001, Troutt assembled the college community in Hardie Auditorium, where Donelson announced the gift. The audience erupted in gasps, then cheers. After much rejoicing, Donelson, Leggett and Douglas were issued heroic-sized Paul Barret, Jr. Library cards. The three turned the first shovelfuls of earth at groundbreaking ceremonies on the crisp, clear morning of December 12, 2002.
For Troutt, the project has been one of balancing the needs of the college with those of the donor.
“It’s a beautiful match,” Troutt said, and the utmost accomplishment of his professional life. “One of the greatest joys of this job is helping donors clarify their deepest dreams and connect them with the college’s most pressing priorities.”
Paul Weisiger Barret, Jr.
When Paul Barret, Jr. enrolled at the college in 1942, he wrote on the form that he stood 5’ 11” and weighed 130 pounds. In answer to the question, “why did you choose Southwestern?” he responded, “good school, near home.” Even then he got to the bottom line quickly.
In 1946 Barret graduated with a B.A. degree in history. He was treasurer of his junior class and a member of Omicron Delta Kappa honorary leadership fraternity. After commencement he headed for work as a ginner and cotton buyer at the Barret Co. He later joined Barretville Bank & Trust Co., an enterprise established in 1920 by his father, a Shelby County business and political leader who served as a member of the Shelby County Quarterly Court (now the Shelby County Commission) from 1942-66. Paul, Jr. assumed control of the bank when his father died in 1976.
Paul, Jr. lived on Barret Road in the heart of Barretville, founded by the Barret family in the 1850s, about “250 yards from the bank,” he liked to point out.
Under his leadership the bank prospered. In 1989 Money magazine selected the bank as “one of the safest banks in America.” Barret only remarked in his modest way, “I’m real proud of it. I’ve made copies of it and put them around our lobbies.”
Barret was a private person. At the same time, he was a man of action who loved boats and fast cars (always red); a souped-up Corvette was one of his favorites. He also loved flying, a thrill that led to the installation of a runway and hangar at Barretville. Through the years Barret generously supported the college, serving as a member of the President’s Council and the 1980-81 president of the Red and Black Society.
By Mariellen Gillespie Thompson
Mariellen Thompson of Rosemark, TN, a retired teacher, wrote the following tribute to Paul Barret, Jr., her lifelong friend. Her personal interest in Rhodes begins with her daughter Mary Nell Thompson Billings ’75 and granddaughter Mary Billings ’07.
Paul Barret, Jr., my beloved friend of 70 years, my fellow church member of the Rosemark First Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., fellow Sunday school teacher and elder, I write about you this day knowing full well you never cared for accolades heaped upon you. I am compelled to tell others of your life that was filled with love for God, compassion for those in need and the sincere desire to share your blessings with others.
One of Paul’s favorite Scriptures was Micah 6:8: “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Paul learned this lesson well and applied it to his everyday life.
When Dr. William Troutt, president of Rhodes College, came to the Rosemark First Presbyterian Church on March 6, 2005, he chose this as his Scripture, not knowing it was one of Paul’s favorites. Dr. Troutt said that these words from Micah stated, proclaimed and exemplified the mission of service of Rhodes College.
Dedication to the Rosemark First Presbyterian Church lasted throughout Paul’s life. He gave great care and attention to every detail of its beauty and maintenance. The first church was built in 1878 and later burned. The present church was built in 1918. It was just a plain, square brick building. Paul, along with the congregation, became interested in updating the building.
When my mother and I heard an Allen organ at a Christmas concert in Memphis, I came home and told Paul about the wonderful sound of it. His response was, “Go buy one for the church.” I did.
After Paul’s mother and father died, he wanted to give a stained glass window to the church in their memory. He asked me to design it. When I told him that I had never designed a stained glass window, he looked me straight in the eye and said in a simple but stern manner, “Design the window.” Happily, I did.
At his request I designed walnut chairs to match the antique pulpit chairs, as well as the kitchen and light fixtures in the sanctuary. I always felt grateful for his trust. Helping him was always a pleasant experience.
When he was in his 20s, Paul taught the adult Sunday school class, became a deacon and later, an elder. He taught for more than 40 years.
At the beginning of World War II, Paul wanted to be a Navy pilot but was turned down because of a heart condition. His disappointment was great. Many years later he would undergo an intricate but successful heart valve operation at Mayo Clinic. Not wanting a fuss made over him, he told only a handful of people, characteristic of his not wanting attention brought to himself.
As a little boy, Paul would sit in a cardboard box and pretend to be a pilot. His first flying lesson was at age 13. When he was 16 he earned his pilot’s license, went to Texas and flew back his first plane.
Paul loved to fly. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was an expert pilot. After all, when God took him at age 74, he had been flying for 58 years! Over those years he flew an average of three days a week. Everyone said that he could fly between the branches of a tree—and he did. Sometimes he would swoop down just to wave “hello” to us earthbound folks. His safety record was enviable, having had only two mechanical mishaps. On the first occasion, the engine exploded, yet he landed the plane safely in a soybean field. The other time, the controls jammed after a mechanic had left a tool in the wrong place. Paul coolly landed in a cotton field, the wheels of the plane fitting exactly between the rows.
The skies over Barretville and Rosemark are quiet now. We miss hearing Paul come and go on his countless flying trips. But we know that God is in heaven and if he needs someone to fly the saints around, he has the right man for the job.
Paul’s Porsche, his boat and planes were fast. He loved speeding. He flew to all of the major car races such as Daytona and Indianapolis. His prized possession was a pit pass. “A what?” I asked one day. Feigning disgust at my ignorance, he explained that it is a permission slip that allows you to go into the mechanics’ area where they feverishly work on the cars coming in from the race for repairs.
“Of course,” I said. “Everyone knows what a ‘pit pass’ is!”
One of Paul’s favorite sports was basketball. After graduating from Bolton High School, he continued to support its athletic program, many times flying players’ mothers to tournaments so they could watch their sons play.
You would think that being a person of wealth and the “boss,” Paul would take advantage of his authority and come and go as he pleased. Not so. His work ethic was such that he kept the same hours as the employees. He looked forward to Wednesday afternoons off just like everyone else. He always kept his commitments. One was to attend church every Sunday morning for worship. No matter where he intended to go on Sunday he was always in his seat in the last pew on the right side facing the pulpit. Like a true Presbyterian, he liked to sit in the back where he could “see everyone.”
Entertaining his friends made Paul extremely happy. Justine’s, owned by one of his friends, was one of his favorite places to dine. His bank banquets, usually held once or twice a year, were there. Some 60 people were treated to gourmet food, beautiful flowers and music.
When the bank closed on Wednesday afternoons, friends could expect something fun to do. You might be invited “somewhere” for lunch. The “somewhere” might be Gatlinburg, Reelfoot Lake, New Orleans. You had better be very hungry! Paul liked to order all kinds of food. Once at lunch at a mountaintop restaurant in the Smoky Mountains, the waiter had to bring a side table to hold all of the food.
The beautiful peacocks and peahens that rule over the Barret and Matthews yards at Barretville were always a source of pleasure for Paul. When he flew to pick them up in their little bundles with their tiny heads sticking out, he didn’t know how much fun they would be later. All 30 of them knew what time to be at the door to get their treats, and they would circle the plane or car to see what was going on when he would be underneath, working on one or the other. Imagine 30 sets of little eyes staring at you at same time.
Presents were the order of the day. Countless times, “Bud,” as his family called him, would be in New Orleans for a day going to a football game or having lunch or dinner. When he was there for several days, he always shopped, mostly in the French Quarter, for a present for his beloved mother Sallie Lou. Over the years, she received many beautiful gifts from him, each one cherished and enjoyed. I can still hear her voice on the telephone when she would excitedly say, “Come see what Bud brought me yesterday from New Orleans.” How he loved bringing happiness into her life.
Paul didn’t have to have an invitation to give a wedding, anniversary, baby or birthday present to someone. He sent flowers to churches, funerals, parties and hospitals. Once, he gave a 50th wedding anniversary cruise on the Delta Queen to a couple. Knowing their schedule, he flew to New Orleans when they docked, treated them to a fine dinner and flew home afterward.
Two of the ministers and their families who influenced Paul’s life were his friends Dr. John Millard (the late pastor emeritus of Evergreen Presbyterian Church) and Dr. Paul Tudor Jones ’32 (late pastor emeritus of Idlewild Presbyterian Church), both of whom served as interim ministers of the Rosemark First Presbyterian Church. Both of these spiritual leaders also greatly influenced the life and success of Rhodes College.
When I was elected our church’s first woman elder, Paul was overjoyed. On Sunday morning, October 5, 1997, our communion seemed especially meaningful. We didn’t know it, but it would be Paul’s last. Early on October 7, he suffered his first debilitating stroke. On October 9, his 74th birthday, he was in intensive care fighting for his life. Using bright colors, I made a huge birthday card for him, and the nurses were kind enough to tape it to the wall where he could see it. He tried to speak but couldn’t. I knew he was saying “thank you.”
Paul always shared. He believed time was wasted unless he had his dear friends with him to enjoy the airplane, the boat, the car, the dinners and special days and times.
He once told me he felt the need to give back to others because he would not have been successful without his community of supporters.
I thank you for living the words of Micah 6:8, for your countless kindnesses, your compassion and concern for the needy, your devotion to your church and loyalty to your alma mater.
May God hold you eternally in his loving arms, my beloved friend, Paul Barret, Jr.