Friday, July 19, 2024

A Legacy of Service and Community in Retirement

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Martha Barrett’s journey began in Dayton, Ohio, where she was born into a loving family with roots in Cincinnati. Her father worked for the Railway Express Agency, a job that required frequent relocations around the Midwest. In 1951, her father’s career led the family to settle in Jacksonville, Florida, when he became an executive with the Florida Railway Express. This city would become Barrett’s lifelong home.

Barrett attended Assumption and Bishop Kenny High Schools. She later pursued higher education, earning a bachelor’s degree from Maryville University in St. Louis, Missouri, and a master’s degree in education from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. These academic achievements laid the foundation for a career marked by nearly forty-five years of corporate and civic involvement.

Barrett’s professional journey began in 1976 in Washington, D.C., where she worked for the National Fire Administration, part of FEMA, during the Carter administration. This experience exposed her to the intricacies of federal operations and public service. In 1978, Barrett returned to Jacksonville to work with Jake Godbold, then the City Council President. Godbold, who later became Mayor in 1979, appointed her as his press aide, a role she cherished deeply.

“The Florida primary is so important, and we need you back in Jacksonville,” Godbold had told her. Barrett fondly recalls, “He started initiatives for downtown development, affordable housing, and senior citizens. He became the real Mayor.”

Her time working with Mayor Godbold profoundly impacted her. He was a mentor who demonstrated the importance of serving the community. One of his major priorities was senior citizens. When he felt down, he would visit senior centers, drawing inspiration from their resilience.

He believed that seniors deserved the best life possible, initiating programs like the Fish-A-Thon in the early ’80s. A particularly memorable event was in 1985 when Michael Jackson performed in Jacksonville. Godbold arranged for seniors to attend, delighting in their joy as they moonwalked at the concert.

In September 2001, Barrett transitioned to the private sector, becoming Jacksonville market executive for Bank of America. Her dedication and leadership skills saw her rise to Senior Vice President.

Despite the demands of her corporate role, Barrett’s passion for education led her to serve on the Duval County School Board for eleven years. This role allowed her to influence the community positively and support educational initiatives.

Now seventy-four, Barrett reflects on her vibrant career and the joy of giving back to the community. “You know, I used to think that was old age. I feel like it’s a young age. I choose what I want to do,” she says, embracing her autonomy and the freedom retirement brings. Her retirement is far from a time of rest; it is a period of active engagement and giving back.

Barrett with big sister, Mary Alice Phelan, 81.

Barrett’s involvement with the Clara White Mission, Feeding Northeast Florida, and affordable housing initiatives underscores her commitment to service. She finds joy in these activities, believing in the philosophy of John Wesley: “Do all the good you can for all the people you can while you can.” This mantra drives her daily actions and interactions, reflecting the values instilled in her by her family.

Raised in a family that prioritized community service, Barrett’s father retired at sixty and devoted himself to church and community activities. Her sister, who married a widower with eleven children, has always been deeply involved in community work. This familial culture of giving back has profoundly influenced Barrett’s life choices and values.

This is not goodbye

Looking ahead, Barrett has exciting plans that blend community service with personal enjoyment. She is organizing a mini-reunion with friends in Hilton Head, attending a Leadership Florida conference in Charlotte County, and vacationing in San Miguel, Mexico, one of her favorite destinations. Additionally, she plans a spa retreat with her sister at Sky terra, located in the North Carolina mountains. These activities highlight her belief in maintaining a balance between serving others and personal well-being.

Barrett’s dedication to community service extends to her engagement with local high school students. She often speaks about the importance of voting and civic participation, telling them, “We have a free society, and the most important thing you can do is vote.” Her message to the younger generation is clear: active participation in democracy is crucial.

Refl ecting on her life, Barrett hopes to be remembered for her great faith, sense of humor, and dedication to community service. “I want to give back to my community, friends, and family. I want to be known as someone who did good work,” she says. Her lifelong eff orts to support education, uplift others, and leave a legacy of kindness and hard work defi ne her remarkable journey. Barrett’s story is one of tireless service, continuous learning, and profound love for her community, embodying the true spirit of giving back in retirement.

Martha and Mary Alice enjoying a Jaguars football game
Martha and Mary Alice enjoying a Jaguars football game

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