CHARLES TOWN – Whitney Burch Barrett, the high-energy Jefferson County Development Authority program manager who died last week after a short illness, is being remembered for her love of friends and family and passion for helping her community.
Mary Duke teaches at Ranson Elementary School, where Barrett led her class academically and also was crowned the school’s Valentine’s Day Queen of Hearts as a sixth-grader. A thoughtful student, at 11 she even helped plan a baby shower for her sixth-grade teacher and his wife, Duke recalled.
She also spent time with Barrett when both were enrolled in Leadership Jefferson in 2007. “I told her a number of times how proud I was of her,” Duke said this week. “Her kind, considerate, organized and efficient ways made her a well-liked and respected member of our group. She was a shining star.”
Barrett went on to Charles Town Middle School and then in 1993 graduated from Jefferson High School. In 2003, she earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Shepherd University and then joined the Development Authority.
One of her chief tasks there was helping build ties among business owners from Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan counties – chiefly through the Eastern Panhandle Entrepreneurs’ Forum, which meets each month to offer networking and an informative program aimed at the business community.
Barbara Bradley, formerly on staff with EPEF sponsors Good News Mountaineer Garage and Historic McFarland House in Martinsburg, remembers Barrett helping her immediately feel comfortable and excited about the EPEF and its mission.
“Whitney Barrett was the face of the Eastern Panhandle Entrepreneurs Forum,” Bradley said. “She was always available for anyone who had a business, organization or point of view to be shared with others in the Eastern Panhandle area.
“Her smiling face and calm demeanor meant that each meeting of that group would run smoothly and information would be provided for all types of endeavors in the Eastern Panhandle. Her passing is sad, not only personally, but the loss of her dedication will be missed for a long time to come.”
Tom Bayuzik agrees.
The onetime executive director of the JCDA worked alongside Barrett from 2009 to 2011. “It was a sincere pleasure to have worked with Whitney and to get to know her,” he said. “She was just a genuine person, always wanting to help, super conscientious.”
Barrett also sought to become better and at her job, Bayuzik said. “I always encouraged training and she did a lot of self-study webinars,” he said. “She always wanted to sharpen her skills. She was very mature and always willing to learn.”
Her love for the community where she’d grown up also came through, Bayuzik said. “I found her just as passionate about Jefferson County as I am in my hometown of Pittsburgh,” he said.
Kellie Hinkle Boles, another of Barrett’s former co-workers at the Development Authority, described herself as “blessed” to have worked alongside Barrett.
“It is rare to be part of a community that grabs a piece of your heart (but) people like Whitney make Jefferson County that kind of place,” she said. “Whitney’s love of place and passion for making her home a better place to live and work were obvious in her dedication and commitment to Jefferson County.
“Whitney shaped the Eastern Panhandle Entrepreneurs Forum into a true asset to grow small businesses. She was authentic and easygoing, which made her a genuine ambassador for the county.”
Heather Morgan McIntyre, the executive director of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, worked with Barrett on several committees over the years. “Her warm smile and great personality always shone through,” she said. “She was so helpful to the business community, giving out information about Jefferson County. Definitely an asset to our county.”
It was Jane Peters, retired since 2009 as the executive director of the Development Authority, who made the initial decision to hire Barrett, then a new Shepherd grad.
One of Barrett’s references for the job was the chairman of Shepherd’s business department, Peters recalled. “When I called him, he was very positive and then he told me he could boil the reference down to one statement: ‘If you don’t hire her, you’re a damn fool!’ I took his advice and never regretted it.”
Peters called Barrett “very poised and mature for her years … also very bright, creative and determined. If she had a project to do, she took it and ran with it and came up with her own ideas to make it better. I saw such a bright future for her!”
But Barrett was more than just a valuable colleague, Peters said. “The things I remember best are her caring nature, her sense of humor, her deep love for her family,” she said.
Barrett and her husband, Justin, welcomed a daughter, Paige Addison Barrett, in the spring of 2011. Her Facebook friends frequently saw snapshots of Barrett smiling with her young daughter, husband, other family members and friends.
Following the 31-year-old’s unexpected death March 27 at Fairfax INOVA in Falls Church, Va., her family set up a scholarship fund for 22-month-old Paige in care of Bank of Charles Town, P.O. Box 906, Charles Town 25414.
Barrett’s funeral was held Tuesday morning at Eackles-Spencer & Norton Funeral Home. Michael T. Myers, the minister who officiated at the Barretts’ 2009 wedding, led the service. She was buried in Bolivar, in Fairview Lutheran Cemetery.