Longtime legislator Dr. Barnett passes away

Published 7:00 pm Sunday, July 28, 2013

Dr. Jim Barnett, a Navy veteran, county doctor and longtime state legislator, died Friday after dedicating his life to his community for several decades. He was 86.

Barnett, a man who worked tirelessly to better his community and his state, entered public service in 1992 as a representative of District 92 in the Mississippi House of Representatives, where he served until 2008.

In an interview in 2012, Barnett said he had always been interested in politics.

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“I enjoyed the legislature, and I did everything I could for Brookhaven,” he said.

His efforts were not wasted. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was in the Mississippi Senate part of the time Barnett served in the House of Representatives, remembered his time in office in a very favorable light.

“He represented Brookhaven and Lincoln County really well in the legislature,” she said.

Barnett worked diligently to make the community better, and many say that he viewed his crowning achievement as the Mississippi School of the Arts. He spearheaded the campaign to bring the school to the old Whitworth College campus.

Bill Jacobs, former Daily Leader publisher, said Barnett was part of the MSA initiative from the beginning.

“He worked so hard on that thing,” Jacobs said. “He worked so hard to get it where it is. It was his baby.”

Bobby Moak, W.L. Rayburn and Hyde-Smith worked alongside Barnett to get the school in Brookhaven, but Jacobs credits Barnett with actually being able to pull the pieces together.

Barnett also was dedicated to raising the funds the school needed to get off the ground. Whether it was flying to Memphis or chasing down art patrons, Barnett was determined to find money for the school.

Barnett was also instrumental in bringing the community the Mississippi Adolescent Center, the Mississippi Highway Patrol Troop M headquarters and the National Guard Armory, as well as being crucial to the development of Lake Lincoln State Park and the Mental Health Group Homes in Brookhaven and Wesson.

Much of his ability to persuade came from the respect he gained from his fellow legislators.

“There were folks in the legislature that really admired him,” Jacobs said.

Hyde-Smith said Barnett would call and just check-in with a lot of his colleagues.

“I always appreciated that,” she said. “As a new legislator, he was really helpful.”

Hyde-Smith recalled Barnett’s willingness to help other legislators, often acting as house doctor while in session.

But most importantly, Barnett never forgot what he was doing in Jackson.

“He was very loyal to his constituents,” Hyde-Smith said.

Matt Coleman, former Daily Leader managing editor, said Barnett cared about his constituents and had compassion for his patients.

“He tried to help everybody,” he said.

Jacobs said no matter where he went, Barnett was always interested in why things were working or why they were not, and he was always looking for ways to make the community better.

“He’s one of those old-time families that helped build Brookhaven and Lincoln County,” Jacobs said.

Coleman commented on Barnett’s desire to be fiscally conservative while representing District 92.

“He tried to look out for Brookhaven and Lincoln County and his district,” he said.

Hyde-Smith also said Barnett was more than just a community leader.

“He had passion for his district; he had passion for his family,” she said.

While serving, Barnett dealt with family tragedies.

“He handled it with really unbelievable strength,” she said. “He had strength in crisis. I admired him for that.”

Barnett strove to make the community better and worked to stay apart of it, all agreed.

“He had an interesting character that made the community interesting,” Jacobs said.

Barnett leaves behind his wife, Roberta, nine children, 26 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren, and a growing town that will carry on his legacy.