Donor Story

A Lasting Way to Thank Mike Barrett

Mike Barrett
Mike Barrett

It was a lucky day for Mike Barrett and Andrew Fine when a facilitator failed to show up for a 1986 Virginia Beach Arts and Humanities Commission strategic planning session.

The meeting seemed doomed until Barrett, an assistant city manager, “stood up and led an impromptu session” that moved the commission ahead. Barrett’s leadership impressed Fine, the commission’s chair and president of Runnymede Corp. He says he decided that day to “steal Mike from the city” to work for his company.

A few months later Barrett signed on as CEO of Runnymede, a real estate development company headed by brothers Andrew and Morris Fine. Barrett helped lead the Virginia Beach firm and its 50 employees for 31 years until retiring in 2017. During his tenure, the company developed offices, townhouses and apartments throughout Hampton Roads. Barrett thrived doing land acquisition, gaining board approvals and working with engineering, design, marketing, leasing and managing of buildings.

At his 2017 retirement party, Barrett’s parting gifts included a donor-advised fund at the Hampton Roads Community Foundation. Runnymede Corp. started the permanent fund, which lets Barrett and successor advisors recommend grants to nonprofits in his name.

“We thought this would be a way to create something in perpetuity and hope it will turn on the light for someone else” to honor a special person, says Andrew Fine, a former community foundation board member. Barrett calls the fund “a tremendous honor.”

Barrett grew up in New Jersey and earned an undergraduate degree in anthropology and sociology from Colgate University where he was on the basketball, cross-country and track teams. After graduation he served in the Navy for four years before earning a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Oklahoma. He became an assistant city manager in Chesapeake in 1977 and joined the City of Virginia Beach staff in 1980. He continued to serve in the Navy Reserves for 30 years.

“Mike is a take-charge guy who tries to solve problems and change things,” says Morris Fine, Runnymede’s vice president, secretary and treasurer. “We balanced each other out,” adds Andrew Fine. “On some projects I was the accelerator and he was the brake.” On other projects, they switched roles.

Beyond work, Barrett chaired the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and was president of Virginia Beach Vision. He served on area task forces for the port, tourism and transportation.

“He has been such a strong supporter for regionalism,” says Jim Spore, who heads Reinvent Hampton Roads. Barrett still drives around with a light rail sticker on his car and “was a real soldier in the blogosphere trying to give insight” in online forums, Spore says. As someone who always used his real name in comments, Barrett says he “wanted to increase the level of conversation and keep it as civil as I could.”

In retirement, Barrett and his wife Linda enjoy taking walks in their Virginia Beach neighborhood and having more time to spend with their two children and four grandchildren.

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