As members of the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce gathered recently to discuss the chamber’s first 90 years, one name kept coming up: Jim Barker, a former Coral Gables commissioner whose 12-year term ended in 2001.
Barker, who died of complications from cancer at 86 on Nov. 2, served as chairman of the Gables Chamber in 1972 and ’73, while in the midst of his 26-year career with Southern Bell.
Just a month or so ago, Barker sat with current chamber president Mark Trowbridge.
“I wanted him to regale me with some stories on how we got involved in recruiting multinational corporations and Latin American headquarters here,” Trowbridge said. “He was sharp as a tack, delightful as ever.”
In a tribute sent to fellow chamber members on Thursday, Trowbridge wrote:
“Today, we see the fingerprints of Jim and his colleagues all over the Gables, with more than 160 international companies and more than 20 trade and consular offices located here. That started on his watch and will continue even with him now gone.”
Barker was born in Valdosta, Georgia, on Aug. 26, 1929, and raised in Jacksonville. After high school, Barker joined the U.S. Air Force and worked as an airplane mechanic. After six years in the service, he majored in business at Jacksonville University, where he played basketball for the Jacksonville Dolphins.
During his time on the Gables commission, Barker helped oversee the renovation of the Coral Gables Youth Center and helped established the Dr. Donald R. Hopkins/William A. Cooper Scholarship Fund, which helped economically disadvantaged Coral Gables High seniors secure scholarships. “We’ve had six or seven graduate college. That is one of the most gratifying things,” Barker told the Miami Herald in 2001.
He helped renovate the Coral Gables Youth Center and established the Dr. Donald R. Hopkins/William A. Cooper Scholarship Fund for Coral Gables High students.
Barker, a Civil War buff who loved to fish for yellowtail in the Keys, carried on with various civic duties, among them president of the Orange Bowl and Junior Orange Bowl committees, board memberships of Goodwill of Greater Florida, Doctors Hospital and International Finance Bank.
“Jim always had a kind word or a knowing glance or squeeze of the shoulder to remind you that tomorrow will be a better day and to keep doing things,” Trowbridge said. “I will use that the rest of my days here to honor him and everything he meant to the Gables.”
Barker is survived by his wife, Montye Barker; his children Tom Barker, John Danese, Bryan Barker and Gaye Walker; brother Bill; eight grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren. A celebration of life will be at 3 p.m. Saturday at Christ Journey Church, 624 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables.