R. Sidney Barrett, Jr.

R. Sidney Barrett, Jr.

Mechanical Engineering
Class of 1962, BS

York County attracted approximately $140 million worth of non-residential development between 1990 and 1999, when R. Sidney Barrett, Jr. served as the Chairman of the Industrial Development Authority (IDA). Almost 2.5 million square feet of commercial and industrial space was built in the county during the 1990s. The county’s commercial tax revenues increased by 160 percent, from $10.4 million in 1990 to $27.1 million in 1998.

When Sid stepped down from his chairmanship in 1999, he was personally commended for much of this success, including the issuing of $136 million in industrial revenue bonds for the construction of 21 industrial and commercial projects in York County. He was also lauded for “the creation of a unique public/private partnership to develop the county’s largest industrial park.” His leadership was cited for contributing “directly to the construction of more than two million square feet of commercial and industrial development” for York County, a 27-mile area from Williamsburg to Hampton, Virginia. When Sid left his volunteer position with IDA after 20 years of service, he was presented the title of Chairman Emeritus.

Sid’s overall success in attracting business to his community as well as in founding his own personal business was a huge jump from his humble beginnings. Raised on a farm near Franklin, Virginia, he attended the now defunct Carrsville High School where all 12 grades were in one building. His 1950 high school graduating class of 18 was the largest in the school’s history at that time. But its smallness did not reflect its progressiveness. “We had the first woman principal in the state of Virginia, and she taught me to paddle my own canoe,” Sid recalls.

After high school, Sid worked at a local paper mill for three years. In 1953, he entered the Apprentice School at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, first as a machinist apprentice and later in the machinery design division. In 1957, he was awarded one of its two annual Ferguson Merit Scholarships to study engineering, and he elected to attend Virginia Tech. The highly competitive scholarships were based on academic and craftsmanship grades and on recommendations from instructors in the Apprentice School where some 500 students were employed. He entered Virginia Tech in the fall of 1957 as a freshman in mechanical engineering.

Sid made the most of his college education, involved in extracurricular activities ranging from the Glee Club to director of the photography staff of the student publications board. He served as president of the Civilian Student Body during his senior year and on the Athletic Association’s Board of Directors. He was inducted into Omicron Delta Kappa, Tau Beta Pi, Pi Tau Sigma, Pi Delta Epsilon, Kappa Theta Epsilon, and Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. He was a member of the American Association of Mechanical Engineers, the Cooperative Engineering Society, and the German Club. He graduated in 1962 after completing the co-op program with Newport News Shipbuilding.

After graduation, he returned to Newport News Shipbuilding as a test engineer in its weapons systems test group. He was assigned to the launcher group of the Polaris submarine’s missile program, and worked on many sea trials for several submarines. In 1964, he was named Assistant to the Director of Education and Training, and served as Director of Supervisory Management Development, responsible for the company’s management training program. Sid taught many of the courses on management and leadership skills to several hundred employees of the shipyard. During this time he was also enrolled in the MBA program at the College of William and Mary.

Before he finished his MBA program, Sid and another Virginia Tech graduate, L.E. (Buddy) Hoffman, an industrial engineer, decided to leave the shipyard in 1967 and start an equipment rental business in Hampton, Virginia. They started as a franchise business and about two years later went independent and operated under the name E-Z Rental Center. Over the next 19 years, they built their operations to include five locations in the Peninsula area. Their business was soon rated in the top 10 percent of general tool-rental businesses, based on volume, in the country. In 1972, they started B&H Enterprises, a partnership venture to build and manage commercial property.

In 1986, when Sid was 53, Stanley Tool Works bought the rental business. It was a little earlier than they had planned, but “when the price is right, you have to make the move,” Sid smiles. In 2001, the last buildings owned by B&H were sold, and it was time to retire from the business world.

Sid remains active in his church, St. Luke’s United Methodist, and as one might suspect, is involved mostly in the financial programs of the church. He has chaired its Board of Trustees and the Finance Committee, was vice-chair of the Administrative Board, and now serves as assistant treasurer. He spends his “free time” pursuing his hobbies of furniture building, gardening, photography, and traveling. Some of those travels are to the Hokie football games.

Sid and his wife Carole are members of Virginia Tech’s Ut Prosim Society, the Legacy Society, and the College of Engineering’s Committee of 100. Recalling his own scholarship that allowed him to attend college, he and Carole have established a scholarship trust fund for engineering at Virginia Tech. “I have always felt that people who work hard deserve to be rewarded,” Sid says.

He and Carole, a mathematics graduate of the College of William and Mary who worked at NASA Langley, have two sons, Terry and Robert. Terry graduated from James Madison University with a degree in finance and marketing, and earned an MBA from the University of Richmond. He now works in Raleigh, North Carolina, in banking and real estate development. Rob graduated in electrical engineering and physics from the University of Washington at St. Louis, and then obtained his doctorate in applied physics from Stanford University. He is a research staff member with IBM and is currently pursuing a second doctorate in theology at Durham University in England.

Class of: 1962
Year Inducted into Academy: 2005