Lexington Resident: William E. 'Bill' Barrett (1929-2016)
William E. “Bill” Barrett, 87, of Lexington, Nebraska, died Tuesday, September 20th, 2016, at Brookdale assisted living facility in Lexington.
Bill was born February 9th, 1929, in Lexington, Nebraska, to Harold and Helen (Stuckey) Barrett. He graduated from Lexington High School in 1947, and was a member of Lexington’s Class B State Championship football team in 1946. He graduated from Hastings College and served in the U.S. Navy, stationed in New London, CT, where he met and married Elsie Linnea Carlson.
Bill Barrett said: “Service to others is the best work of life.” He believed that public service was a high calling. Bill also had many varied interests. His love of music was noteworthy through high school, college, the military, and the Big Band days of the late 40’s and early 50’s. One of his fondest memories was traveling through the Midwest playing stand-up bass and trombone with dance bands, from Chicago’s Orchestra Hall to the beautiful Oak Ballroom in Estes Park, Colorado.
Following his service in the Navy during the Korean War, Bill returned to Hastings College where he recruited students and was vice president for student admissions and was involved in public relations. He later served on the College Board of Trustees for 32 years.
A seasoned traveler, Bill was also a voracious reader and enjoyed playing golf whenever and wherever he got the chance. He loved airplanes and flying and soloed as a senior in high school. He enjoyed flying with family and friends for many years and spent time at family cabins near Estes Park, Colorado and at Jeffrey Lake.
He was president of Barrett-Housel & Associates, an insurance and real estate firm, a director of Farmers State Bank, the Pinnacle Bank & Trust, First State Savings Co., Lexington Community Foundation, where he served as director; the Museum of Nebraska Art (MONA), and was co-founder and director of Midwest Holding Co. of Lincoln.
He was also a member of the Lexington Chamber of Commerce, Rotary International, and the American Legion and served on the Lexington Board of Education, Lexington Airport Authority, Lexington Urban Renewal Authority, the Greater Lexington Development Corporation, in which he was a director, was secretary-treasurer of Johnson Lake Development, Inc., and co-founder of the Nebraska Realtors Political Action Committee. Bill was also state president of the Junior Chamber of Commerce of Nebraska (Jaycees), a 6,000-member organization, which helped him realize that “Service to humanity is the best work of life.”
His church was important to him. He was active in the Presbyterian Church USA and served as an elder, deacon and moderator of Platte Presbytery.
Bill served his community, state, nation and Republican Party for more than 50 years. He was chairman of the Nebraska Republican Party during Watergate and was state chairman of the Gerald Ford for President Campaign, leading both Ford’s primary and general elections in Nebraska.
He was a senator in the Nebraska Legislature from 1979 to 1990. His colleagues elected him Speaker, by acclamation, the last four years of his service.
In 1990, he continued his passion for public service by election to the U.S. House of Representatives where he served for 10 years. His increased seniority helped him to continue to work effectively for business, childcare, education, health care, rural development, agriculture, and other issues vital to Nebraskans. Bill served three terms as chairman of the Agricultural Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and became vice chairman of the full committee, which positioned him to write and pass two five-year Farm Bills.
He often presided over the entire House of Representatives and was elected president of the Republican Freshman Class, which he served for 10 years. In 1996, as Nebraska’s nominee to the Electoral College, and co-chairman of Nebraska’s delegation to the national convention in San Diego, he cast Nebraska’s vote for President.
While in Congress, Bill was president of a bipartisan prayer breakfast that met weekly. In 1997, he was appointed chairman of the National Prayer Breakfast, a yearly spiritual even that brings thousands of people from all over the world to Washington, D.C. and is broadcast around the world.
Bill retired from political life in 2000. During his lifetime, he has known/or met seven U.S. presidents. He received many honors and awards during his lifetime. He sums up his political experience with the quote: “The price of politics is high, but to think of all those people living normal, average lives, who never touch the excitement of it.” Bill felt blessed to have had “an armchair to history.”
In retirement, he continued following his passion to colleges and universities, sharing his insights into good government, and encouraging students to consider public service. Bill as quoted as saying: “Aside from public service, I know of no profession, other than the ministry or perhaps medicine, that helps a person to be more closely involved in the welfare and well-being of his or her fellowman.”
Survivors include his wife, Elsie of Lexington; sister Marjorie (Jim) Hewitt of Lincoln; sons William Carlson (Karen) Barrett of Cupertino, California, and David Harold Barrett of Omaha; daughters Elizabeth Ann Barrett of Gothenburg, and Jane Marie Sarnes of Lincoln; three grandchildren; Elizabeth (Betsy) Potter of Gothenburg, Darby and Noah Sarnes of Lexington: Steven Sarnes (father of Darby and Noah): P. Stephen Potter (father of Elizabeth Potter) as well as nieces and nephews.
Bill was preceded in death by his parents.
A memorial Celebration of Life was held Wednesday, September 28th, 2016, at 11:00 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church in Lexington with Reverend Polly Deppen-Williams and Reverend Reverend Chuck Olson officiating.
Visitation was held Tuesday, September 27th, 2016 at the Reynolds-Love Funeral Chapel in Lexington.
Private family burial will be in Greenwood Cemetery at Lexington with military honors.
In lieu of flowers, memorials are suggested to the First Presbyterian Church in Lexington, the Lexington Community Foundation, and the Dawson County Historical Museum.
Reynolds-Love Funeral Home in Lexington is honored to have assisted the family with arrangements. Please share online condolences with the family by visiting: reynoldslovefuneralhome.com.