Thursday, September 20, 2018
   
Text Size

William (Bill) Barrett, 87 - September 20, 2016

William E. “Bill” Barrett, 87, of Lexington passed away Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016, at Brookdale assisted living facility in Lexington.
A Celebration of Life service was conducted on Wednesday, Sept. 28, at 11 a.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Lexington with the Revs. Polly Deppen-Williams and Chuck Olson officiating. A private family burial was at Greenwood Cemetery at Lexington with military honors.
Barrett was born Feb. 9, 1929, at Lexington 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 went on to graduate from Hastings College and served with the U.S. Navy, stationed in New London, CT, where he met and married Elsie Linnea Carlson.
Following his service with the Navy during the Korean War, he returned to Hastings College where he recruited students, 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, he was also a voracious reader and enjoyed playing golf whenever and wherever he got the chance, according to family members. He loved airplanes and flying and soloed as a senior in high school. He also enjoyed flying with family and friends and spent time at family cabins near Estes Park, CO, and at Jeffrey Lake.
Barrett said, “Service to others is the best work of life.” He believed that public service was a high calling, said family members.
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. and the Lexington Community Foundation, where he served as director, as well as 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 and the Greater Lexington Development Corporation, in which he was a director. He was secretary-treasurer of Johnson Lake Development, Inc. and co-founder of the Nebraska Realtors Political Action Committee as well as 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, stated the family. He was active with the Presbyterian Church USA and served as an elder, deacon and moderator of Platte Presbytery.
Barrett 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. He 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, he 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.
Barrett 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.” He felt blessed to have had “an armchair to history,” family members stated.
In retirement, he continued following his passion to colleges and universities, sharing his insights into good government and encouraging students to consider public service. He was 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.”
Barrett also had a variety of interests. His love of music was noteworthy through high school, college, the military and the Big Band days of the late 1940s and early 50s. One of his fondest memories, said family, 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, CO.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Harold and Helen Barrett.
Survivors include: his wife, Elsie of Lexington; sister, Marjorie (Jim) Hewitt of Lincoln; sons—William Carlson (Karen) Barrett of Cupertino, CA, and David Harold Barrett of Omaha; his daughters—Elizabeth Ann Barrett of Gothenburg and Jane Marie Sarnes of Lincoln; three grandchildren—Elizabeth “Betsy” Potter of Gothenburg, and her father, P. Stephen Potter; Darby and Noah Sarnes of Lexington, and their father, Steven Sarnes; nieces and nephews.
In lieu of flowers, memorials are suggested to the First Presbyterian Church of Lexington, the Lexington Community Foundation and the Dawson County Historical Museum.