Gene Notes

Some random and some not-so-random thoughts on family history.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sympathy Saturday - Frank Barrow

Frank R. Barrow

Frank Rawls Barrow, 83, of Denton, former mayor of Denton and owner of Varsity Shop, died Thursday, June 15, 2006, at his residence.

Arrangements are pending with Mulkey-Mason, Jack Schmitz and Son Funeral Home.

Arts leader Barrow dies Former mayor of Denton helped city make strides


Friends and family said Frank Barrow's death signaled the end of an era in Denton.

The former Denton mayor, businessman and founding member of Denton Community Theatre died at his home Thursday evening. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer about six months ago. He was 83.

"We were talking about the fact that the generation that built modern Denton are dying," said Barrow's son, David, 50.

Barrow died 24 hours after attorney L.A. Nelson, his friend and former Denton mayor. David Barrow said his father and his contemporaries laid the city's one-way streets and improved the city's infrastructure.

But Barrow is best remembered as half of the team who helped found the community theater. He and his widow, Betty Ann Barrow, began working in the community theater in 1970, when Frank earned the starring role in Harvey. In those years, a crew of volunteers was producing theater at the old City Hall auditorium above the city's firehouse.

"When we owned The Varsity Shop [a clothing and gift shop on Avenue A near the University of North Texas] we made friends with Carolyn Silvernale, and that was it. Frank was Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey and we just never left. We took reservations at the shop, and I made costumes at the boutique [the Barrows' second business on Avenue A]. We loved it. We just absolutely loved it."

In the years to follow, the Barrows were involved with more than 50 shows as actors, directors and costumers.

Frank Rawls Barrow's roots went deep and spread wide. He was born to William David Barrow and Nannette Pearl Rawls on Oct. 18, 1922, in his family's homestead on the east bank of the Angelina River near Jasper. He moved to Denton at age 12. He attended what is now the University of North Texas before going to Louisiana State University to pursue a degree in speech and drama.

Barrow returned to Denton after serving as an announcer for the Army Air Corps during World War II to become a partner in his father's Chevrolet dealership. He also served as the first lay pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church.

Barrow went to high school with his wife, Betty Ann, and they performed in a junior-senior play together and became good friends. They didn't marry until 1954. Betty Ann was widowed with four children when her first husband, a naval pilot, was killed in Korea. She had returned to Denton, only to lose her 17-month-old son, Mark.

Betty Ann Barrow said it was clear she was meant to be with Frank when he took care of her as she started over and attended UNT.

"I was in the depths of despair," Betty Ann Barrow said. "This was before people lived together. That just wasn't done. Frank would hold my hand until I fell asleep at night. When I woke up, he was there in a chair beside my bed. My mother told me, 'you'll never need each other more than you do now.' She knew it was meant to be."

Frank Barrow adopted Betty Ann's three daughters, then the couple had two sons. Their children say the couple was a team in every sense of the word. They were business partners, managing three Stuckey's outlets, a chain that was famous for its curios and its pecan divinity. At one point, the couple owned the longest go-cart track in the world.

It was the theater where the Barrows found a special niche, a place where their business acumen and creative energy flourished.

Frank Barrow was the first man to grace the stage at Texas Woman's University, where he played a principal role in Green Grow the Lilacs, the play the musical Oklahoma! was based on. It was his voice that led him to Washington, D.C. Barrow worked in radio at WWDC, and was the youngest announcer to introduce Franklin Delano Roosevelt before a broadcast of one of his fireside chats. In the military, Barrow was an announcer for a variety show called Contact" on a Florida naval base, which entertained dignitaries and featured Rita Hayworth, Al Jolson, Dorothy Parker and Lili Damita, to name a few.

Barrow never balked at the humbler aspects of community theater. Mike Barrow, his youngest son, said his father never had a problem fixing chairs, sweeping floors or fundraising.

"We grew up that way with mom and dad," he said. "You want to be able to tell people 'this is something I've done.' That keeps people from getting upset and saying: 'I wasn't hired to clean toilets.' In everything you do, whether it's your profession or the theater or whatever, everything is important."

Friends said Barrow would do anything to keep the theater going.

"There probably is not anyone who has given more to the theater in volunteer hours," said Donna Trammell, who hired the Barrows to direct her fundraising theater company, Texas Toast, in the 1980s. The Barrows would live in a community for weeks and mount fundraising shows using the locals. "Everywhere they went, everybody loved them. He did theater with kindness. In the kind of work that we were doing, you couldn't have a better way to do it. I don't think there will ever be anybody like them. I've thought about starting it [Texas Toast] again. But you can't do it without Frank and Betty Ann. That was the only reason it worked. I'm going to have to get used to saying 'Betty Ann' instead of 'Frank and Betty Ann'"

Trammell is the general chairwoman of The Barrow Society, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Denton Community Theatre. The society has two aims: to raise money for the community theater, and to plug volunteers into theater programs all over Denton. The society was developed last year, before Barrow was diagnosed with cancer. It was originally opened to supporters who could give $1,000.

"People just love that man. We hadn't started it long before we had $15,000," Trammell said.

Dena Bruton-Claus, a Denton performer, got to know Barrow when she was cast in the title role of Annie Get Your Gun several years ago. Like many of Barrow's friends, Bruton-Claus said it was the beginning of a deep friendship.

"On the day he was diagnosed, I took some ice cream over to him and we ate ice cream out of the package for lunch. One thing he said was 'I've had a wonderful life. I've been a lot of places, and I've loved a lot of people and been loved by a lot of people.' I don't know anyone who has been as open and generous and genuinely living as Frank and Betty Ann. When you are one of theirs, you are one of theirs. I never left that man's presence that he didn't say, 'I love you.'"

Bill Kirkley, a longtime performer, technician and director, grew up watching Barrow do everything from clean toilets at the theater to direct. He also recalls Barrow's spellbinding stories about brushes with fame - Kate Smith.

"I think it's Frank Barrow the man I love the most," Kirkley said. "At midnight on a back porch, he would tell a story making plum jelly with the Maharani of Puddukotai. Who knew there was a Puddukotai? I didn't even know what a maharani was. No matter where you went in the world, no matter what you did, Frank could connect to it and he could relate to it. You're familiar with Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? Well, you could play Six Degrees of Frank Barrow."

Frank Barrow was preceded in death by: his parents; his brother, Bill; sister, Jane; daughters, Wendy and Candace; a son, Mark; and a grandson, Trey. He is survived by: his wife; two sons and daughter-in-laws Mike and Carol Barrow of Denton and David and Sheree of DeKalb, Ind.; a daughter and son-in-law, Dr. Ernest and Darby Barrow Brady of Flint; nine grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

A private funeral service for the family and a few friends will be held Tuesday morning. The family invites friends and loved ones to attend a celebration of Barrow's life at the Campus Theatre at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is

DRC file photo

What: A celebration of Frank Barrow's life

When: 2 p.m. Tuesday

Where: The Campus Theatre, 214 W. Hickory St. Frank and Betty Ann Barrow are pictured on the "Surrey with a Fringe on Top" on the set of Denton Community Theatre's Oklahoma! in 2003. The show was their farewell to the community theater, but the pair was recruited to help found Headliners of Texas shortly after the show closed.

[I never met Frank, but corresponded with him. I knew him as the compiler of  The Benjamin Percival Diary, chronicles of his ancestor in Sandwich, Massachusetts.]

Copyright 2010-2013, ACK for Gene Notes

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