Former Suffolk mayor Dr. Barnett dies

Published 7:59 pm Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Former Suffolk mayor and beloved dentist Dr. George Barnett passed away Monday at the age of 86.

Dr. Barnett was the founder of the Suffolk Leadership Academy and Suffolk Tomorrow, in addition to managing his dental practice and being a community leader.

Dr. Barnett was a councilman before Suffolk’s merger with the city of Nansemond, and became mayor in 1980, according to another former mayor, Andy Damiani.

“He was dedicated to the old city,” Damiani said. “He was very dedicated when he came on council. He was very involved in the city.”

Born and raised in Suffolk, Dr. Barnett was a student at Virginia Military Institute in 1941. His son, G. Harden Barnett, recalled his father’s memories of hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“When he heard about Pearl Harbor, as he told the story, he was at the library at VMI studying,” the younger Barnett said. “He soon realized he wasn’t going to be finishing VMI that year.”

Dr. Barnett served in the U.S. Army, but received a medical discharge before World War II ended. After returning to the States, he began pharmacy school, but later transferred to dentistry school. He began his dental practice in Suffolk in 1950, his son said.

Dr. Barnett’s dental practice served people from miles around, even attracting patients from areas of rural North Carolina that did not have a dentist nearby.

“I run into people today that are my age that remember going to Dr. Barnett’s,” Harden Barnett said. “That doesn’t happen very often, that people have fond memories of going to the dentist.”

Damiani said Dr. Barnett always was dedicated to the dental practice as well as his community work, often going to the office in the middle of the night to meet a patient with a toothache.

Harden Barnett described his father as a “people person.”

“He loved people,” Barnett said. “He did those endeavors as much to be with the people as he loved the dentistry or the community work. He was one of those people who never met a stranger.”

After retiring from dentistry in 1995, Dr. Barnett delved once again into community work. In 2000, he was the driving force behind the genesis of the Suffolk Leadership Academy, which helps Suffolk residents learn more about their community and how to get involved. Dr. Barnett still was active with the academy, said Kenda Council, a member of the planning committee of Suffolk Leadership Academy.

“We were profoundly saddened to hear that news,” Council said. “He would attend almost every class and every session. It makes me so sad to think of having this next session and not having him there.”

The last meeting of the planning committee was about a month ago, Council said.

“He was there doing his thing,” she said. “He was just as involved in it a month ago as he was 10 years ago.”

Even in his 80s, Dr. Barnett loved to travel, Harden Barnett said. He was planning on leaving this week to attend Saturday’s Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas between Oklahoma State University and University of Mississippi.

“He was active until the very end, and in perfect health up until the very end,” his son said. “After 86 years, perfect health is a gift.”

Dr. Barnett is survived by his former wife, Maxine Elder Barnett; his daughter, Gloria B. Barrett and her husband, L. Judson Barrett, of Chapel Hill, N.C.; son, G. Harden Barnett Jr., and his wife, Elizabeth D. Barnett, of Suffolk; son, Glenn Elder Barnett and wife, Mary K. Barnett, of Richmond; eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He also is survived by his wife, Judy C. Barnett, of Virginia Beach.

A memorial service will be conducted Thursday at 11 a.m. at Suffolk Christian Church by the Rev. Michael D. Halley. Burial will be private. The family will receive friends at R.W. Baker & Co. Funeral Home and Crematory on Wednesday between 5 and 7 p.m.