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Hamlet J. Barry, III

Died: May 2, 2010

Two months before he was scheduled to retire, on May 2, 2010, Hamlet J. (Chips) Barry died in a tractor accident on a macadamia farm that he and Gail, his wife of 42 years and a landscape architect, had purchased on the Big Island in Hawaii. They were reviving it and planning to enjoy and make it profitable after he retired. It was a big project, but Gail and he liked to take on big projects and work together on them, especially ones that no one else would ever take on. As his son Pennan, Yale ’96, put it, “Only my parents would decide to buy a rundown farm from a man, younger than themselves, who was giving it up because it was too much work and he was getting too old. From the beginning both my parents loved that place.”

At Yale Chips played freshman and Varsity Tennis — earning a major Y — and played sports for Branford, too. He enjoyed friendships and challenges. He was a guy’s guy and made a boatload of friends who loved him and would get together with Gail and him long after graduation. He came quickly to be known for a deft and puckish sense of humor that, like his tennis shots, could strike and score at any time. His humor could be self-deprecating and disarming, and it often belied how competitive and driven he was.

Following Yale, Chips earned his J.D. from Columbia. After that, he said, “I was determined to learn about life directly, in a variety of locations and situations.” And he did. Gail and he moved to Alaska, where he served as a VISTA volunteer; and they also lived in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, where Chips directed the legal services program and assisted people displaced by atomic and hydrogen bomb testing. On their return, Chips focused on energy, water and reclamation issues, and he became well known for his expertise.

In December 1987 Colorado Governor Roy Romer appointed Chips executive director of the State Department of Natural Resources. Chips loved the work, perhaps because Gail and he, their sons Pennan and Duncan, and their families loved camping, hiking, climbing, and the natural beauty of the West he was working to conserve.

In January, 1991 Chips accepted appointment as manager of Denver Water, the largest water utility between Chicago and California, and in that role, he is credited with major accomplishments for the people of Denver. The American Water Works Association wrote, “During his 19 year tenure as head of Denver’s independent water utility, Barry implemented a conservation program that is nationally and internationally recognized, developed a long-term integrated resource plan, built a recycled water plant and distribution system, monitored watershed restoration work after several devastating wildfires, and led the recovery from one of the worst droughts in the city’s history.”

Chips was well known for his sense of humor and valued as someone who could collaborate with others and bridge conflict to find agreement on tough issues, not just locally but across state lines and regionally. On his passing a retirement roast was converted to a huge memorial and celebration, attended by thousands. Among those present was Colorado Governor Dick Lamm. “If you want a monument to Chips Barry,” Governor Lamm said, “just turn on your water faucet.”

Jon Streltzer remembers:
We were high school classmates in Denver. He was very popular in high school, handsome and athletic; and he was ranked number one in the state in tennis. We became good friends at Yale and kept in touch in the years that followed. We had a lot in common: golf, squash, Hawaii; and we both had titanium screws put into our skulls to hold hearing aids that worked by bone conduction. Chips was a great guy, and I miss him.

David LeFevre remembers:
In high school I was number one on the tennis team (my co-captain would begrudge that), Cleveland Skating Club champ, and all of that. When I got to Yale, I figured I could be a big deal in tennis, so on day one I took the bus out to the Field House and tennis courts to get with the freshman program. On the bus out there, I sat next to this rather slight guy who was from Colorado (never heard of a tennis player from Colorado before, and even so knew he must have been used to just the thin air effect), who was also a freshman. Every freshman started out equal, so everyone had to play every other freshman to get a team ranking. After some initial chatting, the guy next to me suggested we play a match, and, knowing that I would kick his butt, I said that would be great. Being a Midwesterner I had a pretty hard but very flat stroke. I had never been exposed to a very severe topspin style, so when this slight guy from the Rockies started launching topspin bombs, I could barely hit the ball on the strings of my racquet. Needless to say, I got slaughtered. As we got back in the bus to return to the campus, we sat together again, and he asked me what I thought. I told him that my thought was that I had been captain of the soccer team in high school, and that tomorrow I would be at freshman soccer practice.

“That guy” was Chips. I ended up playing tennis, and meeting Chips on day one was quite a coincidence — but while I never beat Chips in a match, I did benefit from the tendency of athletes to play down to their opponent over time and was able to at least provide some decent entertainment for him.

Michael Crutcher remembers:
Hamlet J. Barry, III, (universally known as Chips,) loved his family, the Denver Water Department, his Macadamia nut farm on the Big Island of Hawaii, and impersonating Teddy Roosevelt. Given his stature, round glasses, and great historical imagination, impersonating Teddy must have come as second nature to him. The Denver Water Department, however, of which he was the head, involved great patience, Chips’ natural ability to argue and listen to argument in return, and his ability to see beyond current events to envision mutually profitable long-term solutions. The Macadamia nut farm, on the other hand, might have been a bridge too far. It involved huge amounts of work, a considerable investment of time and effort by his family members and ultimately was to cost him his life in a tragic accident.

After his hugely successful career at Denver Water, Chips decided to retire. He and Gail would work full time on the Macadamia nut farm. A gala was planned in Denver’s Civic Center to celebrate his retirement and thank him for years of public service. Regrettably, he had a fatal accident on the farm shortly before the planned gala; the event was converted into a celebration of Chips’ life. Hundreds of admirers crowded the Civic Center, family, friends, neighbors, and fellow employees; he was eulogized by family members, two U.S. senators, and the governor of Colorado, as well as several of his Yale classmates. No life was ever more fully lived.