November 8, 1927 – March 14, 2013

The College mourns the loss of a dear friend and the former Vice Chairman of its Board of Governors, James L. Barrett, who died early Thursday morning.

A graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Loyola University Law School, Mr. Barrett served on a submarine for two years during the Korean War. When he left the Navy in 1951, he began practicing law in Los Angeles, and in 1959 he opened his own firm, which quickly expanded. At its peak, Barrett, Stearns, Collins, Gleason & Kinney had 26 attorneys and specialized in shopping-center development.

In 1972, Mr. Barrett left his law practice and purchased an abandoned vineyard in Napa, launching a new career as a vintner. Only four years later one of his Chateau Montelena chardonnays stunned the wine-drinking world by besting nine prestigious French counterparts at a Paris blind testing. That event, chronicled in the book Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutionized Wine, is still widely regarded as the defining moment in the history of American wine, and Chateau Montelena Winery is still acclaimed as one of the world’s best.

With his wife, Judy, Mr. Barrett began supporting Thomas Aquinas College in its early, “pioneer” days. “We got into a sacred Conestoga wagon and set across the plains for the promised land,” he once joked. Soon after becoming the College’s second president, the late Dr. Thomas E. Dillon and his wife, Terri, visited the Barretts, and a close bond was instantly formed. “We became blood brothers,” Mr. Barrett remarked, noting that he and Dr. Dillon collaborated in many ways to help firmly establish the College.

The Barretts first became members of the College’s President’s Council in 1987. Over the years, they gave generously to the annual scholarship fund as well as to the construction of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel. In 1992, Mr. Barrett joined the Board of Governors, serving as vice chairman from 2004 to 2008, and retiring in 2010, at which time he was named an Emeritus member. In gratitude for their decades of extraordinary generosity, in 1998 the College honored Mr. and Mrs. Barrett by inducting them into the Order of St. Albert the Great.

“For us, Thomas Aquinas College is a spiritual, cultural, and intellectual oasis in a cultural wilderness,” Mr. Barrett once said. “We have tremendous confidence in the bright, articulate young men and women that are, and will be, graduating from here. These are young men and women committed, morally and spiritually, to fighting for the good of our society and a sound Catholic Church in America.”

“It is not an exaggeration to say that Thomas Aquinas College might not be here today, were it not for Jim Barrett,” says President Michael F. McLean. “He and Judy have been extraordinarily generous to the College with their time, their counsel, and their financial support. We already miss him greatly, and we pray for his eternal rest and the consolation of Judy and the family.”


Posted: March 20, 2013