Oral History Interview with Pete Barr, Sr.

Oral History Interview with Pete Barr, Sr.

Created: March 13, 2017

Pete C. Barr. I was born in Washington, D.C.. on the last day of January, 1934. My family was living in northern Virginia at the time and my father was in Maryland. He had gone to George Washington Medical School and had interned at a City Hospital in Washington which was over in the northeast side of town. And so, dad took mother on a cold January day into Sibley Hospital. When I was born they took me back out to Lovettsville, VA which is right up in the peak of Virginia. Dad did not think there was a hospital in northern Virginia that was worthy of the occasion.

  VIEW

Pete Barr, Sr.

LISTEN  Part I  (18:49)                                       (Text highlights from audio recording.)      

So your father was an MD, what did your mother do?

Dad died in 1950. He was 43. I was 16. Mother worked for the Department of State in D.C.. Mother was in charge of East West exhibits studying things behind the Iron Curtain in cultural exchange. Mother had to do business with the Russian Embassy. Back in those days  we had the Iron Curtain. So mother was always in constant touch with the Russian Embassy and she pushed them around. Mother was a tough lady as most doctor's wives are. And mother called them a bunch of ... all the time and they loved it. They loved it. See that's what's wrong with diplomacy today, they don't have enough Connie's around to kick them. But mother worked until she retired. Later in life we lived in Falls Church, VA which was close by. I lived in Georgetown for a while.

Western High School

When dad died we were living in Florida, but about to move back. And so, I was rushed back and entered high school in Washington, Western High School which is in Georgetown. And it's where dad had gone to school. And that was a marvelous life. For three years, I went to this very fine high school. It was back when the district high schools were the best in the county. They're not now. And this high school is no longer a regular high school. It's now the Duke Ellington School for the Arts, I think. And Mr. Ellington was from southeast Washington.

Eisenhower Administration

But I was there when Washington was a very small city compared to what it is today. Not complicated. No racial problems. No drug problems. And we just raised hell and had a good time. I think the only thing I did to violate the law is, I think, I went down one way streets the wrong way and I was speeding all the time. But we had a marvelous time. And it was during the Eisenhower administration and one of Eisenhower's nephews was in my class. And his mother was Mami's younger sister. There were four Dowd girls. And I met Mrs. Dowd, Mami's mother, one time and she was a grand lady from Denver.

Did those experiences help shape your values?

Well, what I've had to do, is when I came along in life we were living in the country 35 miles west of Washington in a little town called Ashbury. We had lived in Lovettsville. Then we moved down, further down where the Washington Redskins train now. And so, I had to make new friends there. I was just a little tod. I used to make house calls with my father. He made house calls a lot. But here, I'm four maybe five years old and dad used to go to their farmhouses. Nobody could pay him. I mean, things were so tough. We'd get a slice of ham, you know, half a dozen eggs, some vegetables, and I would see these people. And even at four years old I felt sorry for them. I knew they were poorer than we were. And we were poor....

Making new friends...

But the point is, at several times in my life, I had to make new friends because we left Ashbury and I entered the first grade in Falls Church, a suburb of Washington. And I had to make new friends there. About the third grade we came to Florida. We came to Stuart. Dad was killing himself making house calls doing surgery at a hospital in Washington. His old dean of medicine at George Washington was the chief of staff at this hospital. And he thought a lot of my dad. And so dad was, you know, doing all the surgery and then running out to the country and calling on people. So dad's nurse said, "Dr. Barr, I think you need some time off. I have a brother who has a home in Stuart..." And so we came to Stuart for six months and stayed seven years. We got down there and Stuart and Martin County are underserved medically. There was only one doctor. Everybody else was away in the war. So this doctor got dad a wartime license to practice in Stuart. So we stayed in Stuart for about eight years. So I had to meet new people all over again in Stuart.

1950

In 1950, I was about ready to enter the tenth grade and dad passed away. So the next thing I knew as I woke up at a high school in Georgetown, DC I had to make new friends all over again. I mean, I walked in not knowing anybody. When I graduated I was President of the Senior Class, President of the Student Government, star athlete, all of that. I knew everybody. I also had a lovely, lovely, girlfriend whose father was Chief of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institute. And she was just a lovely thing and she wanted me to go to Dartmouth... And this young lady went to school at Smith in western Massachusetts. But I went to the University of Florida. I met my true love and got married halfway through school.

The University of Florida

But here again I got dropped off in Gainesville and I had to make new friends all over the place. The University wasn't very large in those days, you know about 10 or 12,000. So it was easy to make friends all over the place. And some of those people I saw on campus I know now living in Orlando. But most Gators kind of live in the past any how or future as we stare at the Florida basketball team. 

What was your wife studying?

Nancy was studying elementary education and she was a star student, very good. She was a lovely, lovely person. Nancy passed away in November. She had dementia for twelve years so we were pretty close. And she passed away without suffering any pain. We have two sons. The youngest son runs my company and the older son is Billy the Bunker. He's been in banking as a corporate loan officer and he's been very successful at it.

Fry, Hammond, Barr Incorporated

In fact, Pete Barr, Jr. is doing very well with the company. The company is Fry, Hammond, Barr Incorporated. Fry and Hammond you know were old fellows that came up for some kind of advertising program at Gainesville. And I met them there. Once I graduated I got with Fry who had his own agency and then Hammond had another one. I went to work for Fry and a short time later we brought Hammond in. Now the firm, even though Fry, Hammond, Barr is still our corporate name, we have a brand name I call it, and it's: &Barr. And, it's worked out very well. Because we will say, as we talk to a client, well, you know, ABC Liquor & Barr, you know.

&Barr

So the company has made some changes since I left. I left the company to seek political office about 12 or 13 years ago - '03. And, the advertising has changed and fortunately my son, Pete, made the transition very well. We're heavy into digital. Very heavy. And, we're doing a lot of business in digital. I can't figure it out. We have a lot of young people, not even 30 yet, setting the world on fire for us.

I read that the company is one of the top digital marketing agencies in this area...      

We have 50 employees. We're one of the oldest agencies in the state. We've been a member of 4A's, American Association of Advertising Agencies for maybe the last 50 years. When I came to town, as I said, Hammond Fry were separate agencies. So once the three of us got together we started off anew and they've since passed away and we've run along quite well...

Do you remember some of the ads you really liked or some of the accounts you really enjoyed working on?

Well, we did a lot of breakthrough stuff for a lot of people. We worked for some banks here. We worked for a dairy in Orlando.

Florida Department of Citrus

But we went to work for Florida Department of Citrus and did a lot more stuff for them representing the fresh fruit packers and shippers and grapefruit. And we had that account for several years and did a lot of great things. The citrus industry kind of bumped a long and then disease and other mishaps have pretty well crunched the citrus world.

Florida Tile

We've done work for, there was a tile, ceramic tile company in Lakeland: Florida Tile. And we did marvelous things for them, we named tile and were able to trademark the names. And we worked for them for like 30 years. And we achieved a lead that they always wanted to achieve. Florida Tile became the leading specified tile in the retail home business. You know, they had distributors all over the country. And I used to speak at these distributor meetings and show stuff.

Nemours

We represent still to this day, Nemours, the children's hospital, that's not only in Orlando, but also in Jacksonville and Wilmington, Delaware. We have all three of them. We did some marvelous stuff there. And today, we have in our company today what we call our dashboard. We have six large screens up on the wall. When you turn on the children's hospital Nemours, you can see inquiries coming from India or wherever. I mean we're able to track these, all part of our digital business. We've really made a name for them and they're doing marvelous work here. Just marvelous. And it's fun to be a part of that.

We have some of the top doctors in the world here don't we?

Yes, we do. They're very good. When they first came to town they couldn't get a certificate of need. The two large hospitals in Orlando, you know, tried to keep them out of the market. So we had to work politically to get them a certificate of need. And we did it. And I don't know why these other guys, I mean, people who had a young child that needed help, they'd have to go some place else. The hospitals did not get into that part of the market. Kids had to be sent up to Cincinnati and other such places. We have it here now. The hospital's operating and its marvelous. It's just marvelous. So we're for the three hospitals: here, Jacksonville, and Wilmington, D.C..

LISTEN  Part II (20:02)              

What was it like to do business here when you first came to Orlando?

Well, everything was cheaper, simpler. We had a bank and we are not getting enough money from the bank. So when my boss Chuck Fry went to Kansas City for Christmas with his family, I went to see the president of the bank and I was able to more than double the fee he was paying us. And I did that with other clients, I guess, that's why I ended up owning the company. We had a dairy, no longer in business, once again they weren't paying us enough. But we scraped along. Things are more costly today. I talked to my son about some of the business we have. You know, they're bringing in thousands from one account, thousands of dollars for one month. And here we were operating on $200 a month. So, of course, everything has changed. The car that I drove in those days was entirely different than the car I drive today. 

Speaking of cars, you all had the Toyota Boat contract...

Well, we did and that didn't last very long. It was a venture that Toyota Motor Company tried. They were building boats here in central Florida and we would create advertising for them.  And the Japanese people did not appreciate some of the creative stuff that we did. Example, we had a boat with its reflection of the boat, of course, in the water. And we tried to explain what reflection was. They thought it was another boat that had sunk. So, that didn't go well. And, I think, what really happened too, the Japanese people really never got hold of the whole idea of boating. They were great boats and the engines were Lexus engines. But we couldn't say Lexus engines because they thought it was going to damage the reputation of the car. So we had that.

Cobia Boat Company

We also worked for Cobia Boat Company, that was one of the nationally recognized brands. So we worked for them for probably 25 years. It was a great account. It was a fun account. We were all very close. 

Going back a little... you worked as a media consultant for U. S. Senator Ed Gurney of Winter Park?

Yes. I was involved in politics early on in my life. Mr. Gurney was a member of Congress and he had already been elected in 1962. And then we were invited in '64; we represented him in his congressional race for reelection in, I guess, '66 as well. And then in 1968, Mr. Gurney wanted to run for the United States Senate. The Republicans were few and far between. Mr. Gurney was elected by, over a very popular Democratic governor. Gurney beat the guy by 300,000 votes which was quite a majority back in those days. Gurney served one term. But it was a lot of fun for us. But, we kind of wandered out of that business because we were becoming too political. And my politics and others may not be quite the same. So I just figured we're going to go on our merry way and we have.

  VIEW

Senator Ed Gurney using the phone at Showalter Flying Service, circa 1970.

Well, one more slightly political question. When did you hire George W. Bush?

Well, in the '68 campaign for Gurney's race to the Senate, Gurney knew George Herbert Walker Bush, the father because they both served in the house together. During sometime in the fall of '68, George W. Bush had completed his four years at Yale and so his father called and said, "Can you use Georgie down there?" So he came down for four or five months in the end of the campaign. And he was in the international guard so he was taking off on weekends, but he was here. He was one of us. He was quite a guy. I mean even back then. Never did we realize that he would be president some day.

Ronald Reagan   

We had gone to Jacksonville, Gurney was going to meet up with Ronald Reagan, who was then governor of California, and Mr. Reagan came to Jacksonville. I think he flew in a private plane and Reagan did not like flying, at least not in small planes. But we met him. We cut a commercial with the two of them. They appeared on a flatbed truck to the crowd in south side Jacksonville. So George W. Bush and I had one thing in common: we both met Ronald Reagan the same day.

Mr. President

When Bush was elected I ended up going to Washington and meeting up with him in the Oval Office and having to call him Mr. President which is kind of out of character for me, but I did. And we laughed the whole time we were together talking about old times. But he was very gracious. The people at the White House were just wonderful...

You've served as Chair of the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce, Chair of the Downtown Development Board...

Well, I also served as Chair of the Library Board and I was involved in some other things, too. Back in those days people like myself volunteered their time not for a profit for their business, but just their contribution to the community. That doesn't exist much anymore. I mean, a lot of people who do things now just to help their business. Then we were able to do a lot of things. We were able to jump in and make things happen... We had a mayor who was a very close friend, Bill Frederick. I talked Frederick into running for mayor and he did and he was very well liked and very successful. But I did that for only one reason is because Orlando needed a Bill Frederick... When I was President of the Chamber of Commerce and then later chairman, I worked on things to make things happen. We were able to make things happen. I mean, it was when I served, we were coming up on the year 2000 and so we were able to kind of adjust and make this community ready for the turn. So we did a lot of marvelous things. And I say "we" because there were a lot of us, not just me, but "we"....

Would you mind highlighting some of the projects or people you worked with?

Well, the first thing is, when I came here I did not know anybody. So I met people which helped. I have to give a great deal of credit to Chuck Fry who was my partner. My employer when I first got here, he gave me the chance to pick up and run with things. Bill Frederick, Frederick was elected in, I believe it was 1980...  He won big time. And we were able to make things happen for the city. And Frederick was very bullish. 

Orlando Utilities Coal Fire Power Plant

We had to build a power plant, part of the Orlando Utilities, and it was going to be a coal fire power plant. They're burning a lot of gas today because gas is cheaper than coal. They had scrubbers by the way that they spent a ton of money on and they were burning clean coal on top of that. But we needed more power to keep the community going. You know, we had a lot of opposition. We had a political battle. We were put on, the Orlando Utilities Commission was put on the ballot in Orlando to see if the people would approve building the plant. The plant was already well under way. So we thought that what we had to do is go, you know, way broad in our reach because the people in Orlando were telling the people in other places they were going to be smothered in coal dust.

OUC Campaign

So we launched this campaign. It was, I think, some great creative. We found there were four issues. Research said there were four issues.Two of the issues were uppermost in the eyes of men and two were uppermost in the eyes of women. So, we had two people, a man and a woman separately. A man would do a commercial holding a mic look like on the job, had a hard hat on;  woman the same thing talking against each of these issues that the women were concerned about and the men were concerned about.

Mayor Frederick's Reelection Campaign

At the same time there was the reelection of Bill Frederick, mayor of Orlando. And Frederick says, "Barr, you're going to cost me my reelection. This damn power plant thing is going to bring me down." I told him to, "Shut up and sit steady in the boat." Both the power plant and Bill Frederick won with 70% of the vote. Frederick thinks it's his good looks that did it, but we were able to do that and do that well.   

Florida Citrus

Florida Citrus, you know, each and every year we had to keep introducing citrus because a lot of the cheap sugary drinks would take the place of good citrus. And there was  always a matter of medical laws against grapefruit or something. So we had a fight on different fronts in support of the product. Advertising is a necessary job to make people more familiar with what the product or service was, everything that was promoted. And we were very fortunate to make all these things work and we did with the help of good people.

LISTEN  Part III  (20:33)

How does it feel to have built this company that's been sustainable all this time? There have been economic downturns...

Well, during the nineties economic downturn we struggled when everything started going downhill. We lost our largest account which was Cable Television throughout Central Florida. So, we were able to work around that. Watch our pennies and we've worked past it. And, I think, that each and every month that goes by now, I think, it gets bigger and bigger. They're doing great work. We have a staff now, probably the most cohesive staff that we've ever had. You know, they understand all the sides of our business. I mean, today as I've said before:  Digital. And there are agencies that are older, larger than we and they're either on their way out or have already gone out. But I'll give credit to my son who made the turn and keeps the place going.

You're also helping the future because I read that you established a scholarship: The Pete and Nancy Barr Trust Scholarship for people in advertising at the University of Florida. Would you tell us about that and how it came about?

Well, we've given the College of Journalism and Communication a lot of money. Nancy and I started off by creating a scholarship. I wanted it to be awarded to "C" students. And, of course, they picked some of their honor students which is fine. It's students who need financial help. So, we've had that in place. I later came back with additional monies. In fact, enough money that they put an advertising agency inside the College of Journalism Communications. And so, it's a neat ad agency. They've sent projects down for our help and I've been up there to Gainesville to see them. I've talked to the Dean telling her that I thought that College of Journalism Communications should be changed; that journalism died five years ago and, I think, they ought to drop the word...  Let's change the name. I would just recommend College of Communications...

Is it exciting for you to look at ads still?

Yeah, I look at the stuff. I go to the office everyday. I don't think they like it much, but I don't voice my opinion. But there are a lot of good, hard working, very creative people in our firm and they do great work and I tell them so. I mean, I'm not just a critic. I'm a complimentary person, so you know, it's a lot of fun.

You know, sometimes when people think of advertising they might think New York City, they might think maybe some place out in California. You have built this great business here. How do you feel today looking back? Are you glad you chose to develop this business in Orlando? 

Well, I've grown with Orlando. When I came here I came about the same time Martin came, now Lockheed Martin. I knew of the Martin Company because of being in the Washington area. They're over in Baltimore and so, they discovered Orlando about the same time I did. And Orlando, back in those days, the stores used to close on noon on Wednesdays. We had no shopping centers, everything was downtown, and that soon changed.

Orlando grew with us...

So, also in my business, the only way you could really get into network television is be in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Today, thanks to the marvelous world of computers, etc. we can make a buy right now in any spot market or any network and buy the rate as cheaply or as competitively as anybody in New York. And we have all the electronics and all the systems to back that up. So we can do it. We can make smart buys. You know, we've done well because we have smart people. They've come from elsewhere; you know, we have some people who are born and raised in Orlando. So, we're able to turn out a product that we can be proud of. Orlando grew with us.

The City Beautiful

You know, growing is not always good. The traffic is greater than the streets allow... But I came to Orlando because it was neat, it was clean, it truly was the City Beautiful. My grandmother, my father's mother, her husband who was a dentist in the city of Washington used to come to Florida back in the old days. And they'd spend a week in Orlando. My grandfather knew Clark Griffith who owned the Washington Senators. And the two of them used to play golf out at Dubsdread, city course now. And my grandmother once said, "Orlando was the prettiest city she's ever visited." I didn't know what the heck she was talking about... And it's fun, but I could not always do this. Sometimes people would say, "Where you from?" and I'd say, "Orlando." I could be in a cab in New York and they'd know what I'm talking about. Now in the old days I'd say, "Orlando" and they'd say, "How close to Miami is that?" So, you'd have to give them a geography lesson. But I've been overseas, I've been to Europe, same thing - Orlando. I walked into the airport at Frankfurt, Germany, this huge tote board for the airlines and here's Istanbul and Orlando on the same board. So I said, "Son of a gun." It's a great place to live and die. [And you've been a part of that, making it happen.] Well, everybody's a part of that. You're part of that, too. Everybody's a contributor.

LISTEN  Part  IV  (12:50)

You served on the Library Board for many years... 

I got on the board a short time after the previous board had been able to get the tax passed where we have a library tax and they did a good job of making that happen. When I came on the board, there was a growing need for libraries out in the suburbs. I remember more than once having to challenge the library director. And, you know, wanting to put libraries out like in West Orange County and elsewhere and he didn't think it was needed. So sometimes we had to go face to face and I would get board approval and then he'd have to accept it. 

Image of Winter Garden Branch

Winter Garden Branch Library

I was just out in West Orange County the other day and the place is like - the orange groves are gone - there are people, apartments, condos. There are roads. There are roads where they were never thought of so it's good that we have gone out to the hinterland. And the library is a great organization. I think appreciated by most people. Who would have guts enough to say they don't believe in reading? Or they don't believe in the resources the library offers. And, I think, that people are very proud of our library system today. And I was just a small part and there are people who really made it happen...

You have so much experience and you've met so many people...

Well, I have a lot of friends. I have a lot of acquaintances, and most of them are friends. There are a lot of new people here. I look at the obituaries most every day and very seldom do I see people that I know have passed away. So, you know, the city's grown up and I was part of it. All of us are part of it who have been here. And, I think, it was a great move when I decided to come here...

It's a great honor to be a resident of Orlando.

It is a great honor to be a resident of Orlando. It's my adopted city. I think that's why I worked so hard for the good of the community like a lot of people are, is because I chose this community. And I had to work to make it the way I wanted it to keep the community from failing. And I think a lot of people pitch in and do the same thing. So I think everybody has this pioneer feeling to press on, make things happen...

Jerry Chicone

I had one class with Chicone at Florida, I think, in my sophomore or junior year. And later when I moved to Orlando, I said, "Chicone he lives here." I didn't know he owned half the city. But, so we kind of picked up on that and I consider him my most trusted friend. I said that in front of Bill Frederick one day and he said, "I thought I was." I said, "You're just a friend." But they're fun people. And we get together and insult one another and have a good time. [And you've accomplished a lot for our community together.] Well, we all worked at it and again we did it.

Bill Frederick, a new mayor for Orlando...

When I talked to Frederick about running, our mayor then was Carl Langford. And Langford had said he's not going to run for reelection unless no one good comes along. And we all liked Carl. He was a great man. So I called Frederick. I guess, Chicone and I were out at a meeting talking about it. So I called Bill the next day and I talked to him for about 45 minutes on the phone. We knew each other. So Bill says, "Give me two weeks." I saw him about a week later and he says, "I still have a week." So in two weeks he said, "I'll do it. What do I do?" I said, "Just sit steady in the boat." So we pulled people together, Chicone and others, and we planned the whole attack. And I created the line, "Bill Frederick, a new mayor for Orlando," because we needed a new mayor. You know, up to date. So it worked. 

Interview:  Pete Barr, Sr.
 
Interviewer:  Jane Tracy
 
Date:  March 13, 2017

Place:  Orlando Public Library

  

 

   

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

             

 

   
 

Author:
jtracy
Name:
Pete Barr

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