James Samuel “Jim” Barnett passed away peacefully on December 26, 2022, in Bradenton, FL, after a short illness. He was born on May 7, 1940 to Kathryn and George Barnett, and grew up on a small farm in South Carolina, where he got into all sorts of mischief with his two brothers, Neil and Julian – like the time they thought it would be a great idea to burn the vine off the wooden fence instead of cutting it down and digging it up like their father had asked.
Jim met Elaine Ward (Barnett) in a church youth group when they were in Middle School. They didn’t much like each other at first (he thought she asked too many questions, she thought he was too quiet). But, as these stories sometimes go, they tried one date in high school, fell in love and continued building their deep love for each other – the relationship of a lifetime – while they attended college. On June 29, 1962, Jim both graduated from Davidson College and married Elaine, beginning their amazing 60 years together as husband and wife. Because his college graduation was delayed a month, Jim liked to joke that Elaine graduated (from St. Andrews Presbyterian University) summa cum laude, while he graduated “sooner come later.”
The newlyweds immediately headed off to Germany, where Jim, who was commissioned into the army as a 2nd Lieutenant (also on June 29, 1962), served as an M.P. If he never told you about the time he pulled over Kris Kristofferson, but let him off with a warning, well, then, you must not have known Jim that well. Even though money was tight, Jim and Elaine took advantage of every opportunity and adventured all over Europe, sometimes sleeping in the car so they could meet their budget of $5 a day. So began their love of travel and discovery. Jim liked to joke that Elaine would even take a trip to “hell in a handbasket” so long as it was a roundtrip ticket, and he was always, faithfully, unquestioningly by her side for every journey. Jim and Elaine also began their lifetime of legendary hospitality in Germany. They loved hosting friends and family (except maybe the friend who had a little too much wine and could only remember that he had parked his car on “some street named strasse” – the German word for street).
Their son, Bill, was born in Germany and, when Jim and Elaine returned to the U.S., daughter Kathryn followed. Jim settled into his career of helping small businesses, entrepreneurs and families reach their dreams through his work with North Carolina National Bank, which ultimately became Bank of America. By the time he retired, Jim was a Senior Vice President.
Jim worked hard to support his family, but he never let work get in the way of his devotion to them. He taught his children the importance of education, hard work, and giving back to the community, and he showered them with love, even when they were insufferable teenagers. Jim was also always quick with a prank or a wry joke (like the time he convinced his daughter that her school – but not her brother’s – was closed on April 1st, and then watched with much mirth as she gloated and pranced around until Jim grinned widely and announced, to her dismay, “April Fool’s Day.”)
When grandchildren came (Michael, Jack, Christopher, Ethan and Oliver), Jim embraced them with the same love, humor and gusto, whether it was taking them fishing, tickling them and “getting their goozlers,” or spoiling them with “pie for lunch” for a whole week. For his grown children, now parents, Jim shared invaluable parenting advice, so much so that their friends know all about Jim Barnett and his parenting wisdom, even if they never met him.
Jim also found time to serve the community as a member of the City Council in Monroe, N.C., founder of the Union County, N.C. Arts Commission, member of the Board of Trustees of The Ringling Museum, President of the Manatee County United Way and member of the Board of Thornwell Children’s Home. He also served as a teacher, Elder and Deacon of the Presbyterian churches he and Elaine joined over the years and served as the volunteer Treasurer for the Peace River Presbytery for seven years. In fact, when Jim retired from the bank, he went right back to work as a Development Officer with the Presbyterian Foundation.
In their more than six decades together, Jim and Elaine continued their love of travel and adventure. They visited all 50 states and 101 countries. Their last escapade – just after Jim’s 82nd birthday – was a visit to son, Bill, in London and then a week-long journey through Wales (in a six-foot wide canal boat!) with daughter, Kathryn, and her family.
Jim’s love of friends and entertaining also continued throughout his spectacular 82 well-lived years. The house was often filled with the sounds of bridge games, tall tales, music, U.N.C. basketball games and laughter. Anyone who knew him can especially remember Jim’s magical laugh. It did not matter if the pets snuck in and dragged the marinating pork chops all over the house, if the boat candle decoration floating in the pool during a big party caught fire, if the shrimp got left in the trunk of the new car, or if the boat he was trying to sail with his cranky teenager went backwards all the way down the canal, Jim always found a way to laugh and see the humor in difficulties. He stayed that way right up to the end, cracking up the nurses and medical staff and his family during his short hospitalization.
As he would have been quick to tell you, Jim Barnett lived a full, meaningful, joyous life, filled with love, laughter, service, faith and adventure. He touched innumerable lives.
A celebration of Jim’s life will be held Sunday, February 19, at 3:00pm, at First Presbyterian Church, Sarasota, Florida, which will also be live-streamed at firstpressarasota.org. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to First Presbyterian Church, 2050 Oak Street, Sarasota, FL 34237.