PASADENA-Amytis Barrett, a dedicated community volunteer and philanthropist, died Monday, Jan. 3, in Pasadena. She was 90 years old. She is survived by her son Olin and his wife, Ann, of Pasadena, and their two grown daughters Carolyn and Amanda, of New York.
Described by former California Institute of Technology president Tom Everhart as a "rare individual who gave everyone around her a lift," Mrs. Barrett was a strong supporter of and volunteer at the California Institute of Technology and many other community organizations.
Mrs. Barrett was born March 16, 1909, and grew up in Los Angeles. She graduated from Marlborough School in Los Angeles, attended Radcliffe College, received a BA from Vassar and an MA in psychology from Claremont Graduate School. She worked as a counselor at the Marlborough School for a time, but was primarily known for her tireless volunteer work for a variety of local organizations. She served on the boards of the Los Angeles and Pasadena Junior Leagues, and the Girl Scouts Council of the San Gabriel Valley. She was also involved with Planned Parenthood and the Pacific Asia Museum. Through the State Department's Center for Foreign Visitors, she also gave tours of the Los Angeles area to a number of dignitaries from foreign countries, including royalty from Southeast Asia. She was an avid gardener and traveler.
Her prime area of interest was Caltech. The connection to Caltech began through her husband of 48 years, the late Vernon Barrett, an attorney and partner with the Los Angeles law firm of Wellborn, Barrett, and Rodi, who had a strong interest in physics and was friendly with several faculty members. She was a contributing Life Member of The Associates at Caltech and belonged to The Associates' President's Circle. In 1987, she established the Vernon Barrett Scholarship Fund at Caltech in memory of her husband and in the same year "Amytis Way," a wheelchair ramp for which she donated the funds, was dedicated at the Caltech faculty club, the Athenaeum.
She led campus tours for new Caltech Associates and was very involved in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships Program (SURF), which allows undergraduates to conduct research projects in collaboration with Caltech faculty or Jet Propulsion Laboratory technical staff members during the summer.
According to Carolyn Merkel, who heads the SURF Program, Mrs. Barrett attended SURF events, enjoyed meeting the students, gave them feedback on their communication skills during their final presentations, and urged her friends, as well as people she had just met, to support the program. "That was Amytis," says Merkel, "involved, interested, participating, enthusiastic, unique, a cheerleader-the captain of the squad."
For her unwavering involvement at Caltech, she was named an honorary alumna in 1991, and Dr. Eleanor Helin at JPL named an asteroid for her in 1994 to celebrate her 85th birthday.
Mrs. Barrett was also known for mentoring dozens of professionals on communication skills and relationship building and often mailed articles of interest to friends with a note from the "Barrett Clipping Service."
There will be no memorial service, according to Mrs. Barrett's request. Her family has asked that donations be sent to Caltech in care of Charlene Chindlund, Caltech Development, Mail Code 105-40, Pasadena, CA 91125.