When the subject of St. Petersburg arose in 1925, lawyer U.C. Barrett was in a Georgia drugstore pitching pennies for Cokes.
"One of the fellows said he was going to St. Petersburg and why didn't I come, too," Barrett said. He made the trip. "(While there) I looked up and saw Cook and Harris' law firm sign. Thirty minutes later, Harris was asking me to join the firm."
In the next 51 years, Barrett became the city's dean of attorneys. "A great lawyer and a grand role model for young lawyers," said U.S. Circuit Judge Paul Roney, 81.
Barrett also organized Goodwill Industries, the Community Chest and a youth golf tournament. He was named Mr. Sun. In tribute to his Snell Isle beautification efforts, a boulevard there bears his name.
"He was very precise and very prompt," said Rosemary Westbrook, 79, Barrett's secretary for more than two decades. "He was interested in everything and everybody. Nobody was a stranger to him.
"Wanted to do everything right away," Westbrook added. "Couldn't wait once for furniture to be delivered from Lester Brothers. We carried it across Central (Avenue) to the office."
On Oct. 30, 1886, Uel Curtis Barrett was born in Barnesville, Ga. Friends called him U.C., and it stuck.
After public school, Barrett attended Gordon Military College and then majored in law and history at the University of Georgia. He spoke French and was a French Army liaison officer during World War I.
After returning to Barnesville, Barrett practiced law and married Bobbie Matthews. They would have one child.
After pitching pennies in Cartersville, "I came to St. Petersburg on a visit in 1925 . . . liked the town . . . and came back to live," Barrett once told journalist Mary Evertz.
To reinvigorate Snell Isle in 1936, Barrett and author Thomas Dreier formed the Snell Island Property Owners Association. "We mowed the island . . . twice a year for 36 years," Barrett said.
"He (mowed) because he hated weeds," said Barrett's son, Robert, 82, from his home in Cartersville, Ga.
In 1951, Barrett established the 54-hole U.C. Barrett Junior Golf Tournament. "He was proud that he got it started single-handedly," Robert Barrett said.
"He wanted to be remembered for the tournament," which ran until about 1976, Westbrook said. "He provided lunch, the trophies. He was there."
Between 1958 and 1961, Barrett was honored by the local Bar Association and presided over the United Givers (United Fund). He was chairman of the St. Petersburg Committee of 100 and received the Outstanding Citizen Award from the Junior Chamber of Commerce.
"The greatest pleasure I have in life is doing things for little people," Barrett said.
Barrett also directed the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts, the Children's Services Bureau and the Florida National Bank, where he had his office. "I wondered if he ever relaxed," said lawyer Louie Adcock Jr., 72.
When so inclined, Barrett would criticize the city. "We are looked upon as a hick town," he said during a Detroit Hotel address in the 1960s, while advocating removal of the green benches. "People sit on them and buy nothing in the stores."
In 1971, Barrett wrote a published Thanksgiving message that Westbrook said epitomized the man.
"Let me say that I believe in the everlasting goodness of man; that I believe that good will out-do evil; that right will prevail over wrong," read one paragraph. "Men will be better men and our world a better world."
Barrett decided to leave his home at 1943 Brightwaters Blvd. for Georgia in 1976 to be near his son. That April, several hundred friends gave the city's longest-practicing lawyer a farewell party.
Barrett received overalls, a straw hat, a green bench, the St. Petersburg Times Stick of Type award and a Barrett Boulevard street sign.
"(Barrett) had the essential attributes of a probate lawyer," said Judge Roney at the Yacht Club event. "He outlived his clients."
Said Barrett, who often carried a black book filled with quotations and humor for reference during speeches: "I've lived a wonderful life here. My body will go back to Georgia, but my affections will never leave this town."
On March 26, 1982, Barrett died in Cartersville. He was 95.
"He was a knowledgeable lawyer, philosopher and a true country squire," said Robert Ulrich, 69, a former law partner (1963-1976) and former mayor (1987-1991). "He served as a model citizen."
_ Scott Taylor Hartzell can be reached at hartzelmsn.com.