On Thursday, May 3rd, 2012 James Russell Barrett died peacefully at Hope Hospice, near his
winter home in Bonita Springs FL. He was 80 years old. He was born into one of the earliest
River Forest, Illinois families, on May 17th, 1931 to John Francis Barrett and Alice Flanagan
Barrett. He had the Rockwellian experience of growing up in the same house his father had been
raised in, with relatives living right next door. His sister stayed on and raised her family in that
same house while Jim raised his family a block away. He attended Saint Luke grade school and
graduated from Fenwick High School in Oak Park, IL. He was the youngest and last remaining
of the Barrett brothers (John, Tony, Tommy, and Billy). He is survived by his beloved and
adored wife of 60 years, Mary Koebel Barrett, and his very dear sister Margaret Barrett O’Neill.
He was preceded in death by his daughter Susanne Marie Barrett. He is also survived by his four
remaining children James R. Barrett, Jr. (wife Janet Waycie, sons James Russell III, Edmund),
Joseph W. Barrett (wife Dianne Lamb, sons Ryan & John, daughter Laura), Jeanne Marie (Gigi)
Barrett Lee, (daughters Jeanne (great-granddaughter Hatteras), Madeline, sons James, Kevin,
Brian), and Brian J. Barrett (wife Christine Rutkowski, sons Miles & Todd).
“Gentleman Jim” was a fierce competitor from a family rich in football history. His father was
an All-American at Oak Park and River Forest High School under the legendary coach Bob
Zuppke. His dad went on to play at Washington & Lee and later he played professional ball
for the Chicago Staley’s, a precursor to the Chicago Bears. Jim and his brothers all starred at
Fenwick. John went on to play at Georgetown, and was drafted by the Washington Redskins,
but fatefully he enlisted in the Marines and was killed in action. Billy was a star halfback at
Notre Dame. Jimmy played quarterback at University of Illinois before a knee injury ended his
Jim took that competitive spirit and ran with it into the retail sales field. He started his retail
career earning great experience as a sales executive at Polk Bros. He became a pioneer in the
hi-fi stereo and color television business when he founded Barrett Magnavox in 1966. He out-
maneuvered the opposition by changing his business models and store locations as he catered
to his customers’ growing sophistication and their shifting demographics. In 1972 as Barrett’s
Audio/Video he introduced Mitsubishi big screen TV’s to the Chicagoland marketplace with
great success. In the 1980s Barrett’s became one of the largest retail distributors of audio
products. As an independent retailer, through his force of will, he scored victories over many big
named, deep-pocketed, regional and even national outlets that coveted the Chicagoland market.
Manufacturers admired his fierce brand loyalty and respected his direct no-nonsense approach to
business. He was also a great judge of people’s character and potential. His advocacy inspired
results. He trained many young men who found their own self-respect through his encouraging
words and through the business experience he afforded them. The family business continues
today. It is now called Barrett’s Technology Solutions and is run by their son Joe.
Jim is also survived by countless life-long grade school and high school friends. It was an
inspiring generation defined by deep and long-lasting relationships forged in Catholic institutions
during the Great Depression and the Second World War. He had such respect and admiration
for his many friends of numerous accomplishments, especially for his fellow Fenwick Friars.
He was helplessly gregarious. A life-long White Sox fan, he had the conviviality of a Chicago
politician. He felt there were many conversations to be had in any restaurant he happened into
with people he had never met before. Let it be said he never met a stranger. Lastly, the most
important thing to Jim was his family, including all his children, grandchildren, great grandchild,
his nieces and nephews – he revered the roles of “Uncle Jimmy” and later, “Papa.” He remained
deeply devoted to the love of his life, Mary, in a marriage that lasted over 60 years. A memorial
service is planned for Friday, May 18, a day after what would have been his 81st birthday. It will
be held in St. Isaac Jogues Church, 411 S. Clay Street, Hinsdale, Illinois. Visitation will be from
9:00 am to 10:00 am. Mass will be held at 10:00 am. In lieu of flowers, please consider sending
donations to Misericordia at 6300 N. Ridge, Chicago, Il 60660, where his nephew resides.