Barbara Barrett grew up on a 100-acre horse farm in Indiana County.
Long before she reached Saltsburg High School, she was leading people on pony rides near the family farm in Lewisville, Conemaugh Township.
“We had horses and ran a riding stable,” Barrett said. “We had people from all over, people from Indiana County, Allegheny County, Cambria County and Westmoreland County, who would come to our farm to go horseback riding.
“Through horseback riding, we had college students from all over country, all over world, who would find their way out to this little, down-in-a-valley farm of ours. It was not fancy. It was 100 acres.”
Barrett, 67, was born on a different farm two miles away. But it was purchased by the government because it was located in a flood plain near the Conemaugh Dam.
“Our old farm was razed, but we were close enough that the whole Conemaugh Dam backup area was our playground,” Barrett said. “We rode horseback and hiked in that area.
“At first, we just had one horse. People would come in to ride, then we got two horses. They built a little vacation area there and I gave pony rides when I was a little kid. I was like in fourth, fifth or sixth grade, and I would lead kids around in a circle for 25 cents.
“Then we ended up getting quite a few horses.”
BARRETT’S FATHER, Robert McConnell, was a one-time coal miner, steel worker and cowboy.
He eventually worked the night shift at Federal Laboratories in the nearby village of Tunnelton, and would tend to the horses and do some farming during the day.
“Sadly, he died on a horse,” Barrett said. “He had a group of 14 students from IUP and he was taking them horseback riding — it was one of the biggest rides we ever had — and he died of a heart attack in 1963.”
After her dad’s tragic death, Barrett helped run the farm, along with her brothers and sisters.
“The family picked it up and did the jobs dad was doing,” she said. “We sold some of the horses, but kept most of them.”
Barrett, who graduated from Saltsburg in 1968, said she already has visited her old family homestead a handful of times this year. Her sister, Patty Minter, is the owner/trainer at Patusan Farm in Clarksburg.
“Some past riders now own the house and farm and my youngest sister still owns most of property. She rides horses there, she is a competitor. I ride the horses when I am there, too. The horseback riding we did 50 years ago when on the farm in Pennsylvania, we still do.
“I have two brothers who are still in area and two sisters who live or have lived in the area. My mother, Betty McConnell, who ran the riding stable for years, lives in Ligonier. A third brother died in a car accident.”
DURING HER childhood days, Barrett remembers her dad introducing her to Jimmy Stewart’s dad, Alexander, at his hardware store on Philadelphia Street.
“We went there to buy horseshoes and horse nails,” she said. “Mr. Stewart kept them in the safe not too far from the pot-belly stove in the middle of the store.”
Barrett said she never met Indiana’s most famous son, Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart.
“I remember everyone admired Jimmy Stewart, looked up to him and thought very highly of him,” she said. “I remember I was a really small tyke when my dad took me into to the hardware store.
“I remember my dad saying to Mr. Stewart, ‘How is Jimmy doing?’ My ears perked up, I thought, ‘Great, Jimmy’s here, there is another kid around to play with.’ I was excited.
“Mr. Stewart said to my dad, ‘Jimmy’s doing just great, he just signed another contract.’ I was confused. I thought getting a contract sounded like an old person got it and here I thought Jimmy was a kid.
“It didn’t take me long after that to figure out just how big Jimmy Stewart was. My dad took me past the house where he grew up on the way home.”
SHORTLY AFTER graduating from high school, Barrett moved to Arizona to attend college at Arizona State University.
“My dad grew up in the Black Lick, Blairsville area and during the Depression, he went to Arizona to be a cowboy,” Barrett said. “He worked on several ranches out West. I wanted to see the place, so I went to Arizona. I thought I would go to Arizona State maybe a semester, then leave.”
More than four decades later, Barrett still calls Arizona home.
She earned bachelor’s, master’s and law degrees at Arizona State University. She also has several other honorary doctorate degrees, including from the Thunderbird School of Global Management, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the University of South Carolina, Pepperdine University and Finlandia University.
Barrett also did an internship under then-Arizona Sen. Sandra Day O’Connor when she was just 20 years old.
O’Connor, a former cattle rancher herself, went on to become the first female justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Barrett considers O’Connor a mentor and role model.
“I worked at the state capitol for her,” Barrett said. “Sandra Day O’Connor worked harder than anybody else. She was brilliant, honest and straight forward. She was very demanding, had high expectations and common sense and good-old down-home humor.
“She was very generous with her time and her attention. She was a remarkable woman, She kept us so busy on the job, but it was fun, it was great, it was high energy.”
BARRETT HAS had a storied career as well, advising five American presidents on trade and defense policy.
In 1982, she was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as the vice chairwoman of the Civil Aeronautics Board. In 1989, she served one year as the deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, the first woman to hold that position.
During that time, Barrett said she was greatly involved in rebuilding the air traffic control system after the air traffic controller’s strike.
As a member of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services she has worked with Congress, the Secretary of Defense and the Department of Defense to advance the position of women in the military that in 1993 culminated in allowing women to fly combat aircraft.
Barrett also reportedly was the first civilian woman to land an F/A-18 Hornet on an aircraft carrier.
“It was an absolute privilege and thrill,” she said. “I didn’t know at the time that I was the first woman to do it. We did six different landings and six different approaches with the aircraft in San Diego.
“I still stay current with my pilot’s license, but I just fly little planes now, single-engine ones, and I only fly with an instructor pilot now. I’m not active enough now to fly alone.”
Her numerous other awards include the Horatio Alger Award, the Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship and the Sandra Day O’Connor Board Excellence Award.
In addition to leadership roles at Caltech and the Aerospace Corp., Barrett is a member of the governing boards of Sally Ride
Science, the RAND Corporation, the Smithsonian Institution, the Lasker Foundation and the Horatio Alger Association.
She has also served on the boards of the Space Foundation, Hershey, the Mayo Clinic, Exponent, the Raytheon Company and Piper Aircraft.
BARRETT SPENT several months in Russia training to be a backup crew member for a space mission by Canadian billionaire and Cirque du Soleil co-founder Guy Lalibert￩ in September 2009.
The launch was part of a program through Space Adventures Ltd., based in Vienna, Va., with an office in Moscow.
“It’s not anything I ever thought I would do — it was an unexpected opportunity,” Barrett said. “I was asked if I would serve as backup. It was a very accelerated process. It was 4ﾽ months, whereas it’s normally about two years with the NASA program.
“Until the day of the launch, I was wasn’t sure if the primary guy would go or if I would go. I would have been delighted to do it, but I knew from the beginning I was the backup. It was his job to lose.”
Barrett climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and while serving as U.S. ambassador to Finland in 2008 and 2009, bicycled 900 kilometers around that nation.
She was confirmed as an ambassador by the U.S. Senate on April 29, 2008, and sworn in by O’Connor the next day at Arizona State.
“I was nominated at the end of (President George W. Bush’s) presidency,” Barrett said. “I was a short-term ambassador, it was less than year, and I made the most of it.
“There was no prouder moment in my life than representing the United States of America in another land. There’s nothing like that experience. It’s the least corrupt system in the world. Finland is a great country.
“Another proud moment was I had the privilege of working with men and women of the military for 25 years. It involved 150 military bases.
“Seeing the dedication and professionalism those people exhibited was extraordinary and a privilege.”
Barrett also was the first female Republican candidate for governor of Arizona and has served on many corporate boards and been recognized multiple times for her work.
SHE IS married to Craig Barrett, retired chairman and CEO of Intel Corp., and they own the prestigious 26,000-acre Triple Creek Ranch resort in Darby, Mont.
The all-inclusive luxury ranch was named the best hotel in the world in 2015.
“We wanted a second home, a retreat, somewhere to go in the mountains and it was a perfect place for us,” she said. “We just love it there.”
The Barretts, who live in Paradise Valley, Ariz., have donated $12 million to Arizona State, $10 million of which went to the honors college. Craig Barrett has two grown children, Scott and Dawn, from a previous marriage. The Barretts have been married for more than three decades and Barbara has found a way to be successful at balancing her work and life schedule.
“You have to love what you do and then it’s not work,” she said. “I think I benefited from having to work in college when a lot of kids my age didn’t have to.
“I established work habits and was working as many as five jobs at a time to pay for school. I paid all of my school, books, etc.
“I had lots of jobs, not
because I wanted to, but because I had to. It was an accident, but it would have been a good strategy, had I thought of it. I learned from each of those jobs.”
Despite all of her accomplishments, Saltsburg’s most celebrated graduate said her path to success began on her family’s Indiana County farm.
“Conemaugh Township and Indiana County are in my blood,” she said. “My formative years were all spent on that farm and in that community. I loved it there. It was a fun place to grow up.”