Achievement in the Liberal Arts – Reunion 2014
Barry Thomson started his college years in the hectic days of the Vietnam War era. It was a difficult time to decide on one’s life, but to Barry, coming to Drew from his home in Peapack-Gladstone, N.J., studying the liberal arts was a perfect choice. He fully benefited from the close community and individual attention from the faculty, especially from Julius Mastro, John von der Heide and Perry Leavell in political science and history.
Barry expected to go to law school after graduation, but working in a Wall Street law firm persuaded him to look elsewhere for satisfy the interests he had developed at Drew. He was recommended to the Woolworth Corporation for a legal matter, and there he found satisfying work. At Woolworth, he initially worked on special projects before becoming corporate secretary and then vice president for public affairs, and finally became the company’s youngest senior vice president, chief administrative officer and member of the five-person chairman’s group. He was never pigeonholed at work, he says, because he was a generalist by education, and that suited him perfectly. While at Woolworth, he was selected as a David Rockefeller Fellow, exposing him to leaders and issues in the private, public and nonprofit sectors of New York City.
Then changes at Woolworth, and opportunities closer to home, convinced Barry that he would prefer a change himself. Leaving Woolworth in 1996, he spent a summer in architecture and urban planning at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Since then he has been a consultant on management and corporate governance; a trustee, director and officer of nonprofit organizations; and a student, writer and lecturer in historical preservation and architectural history.
His deep interest in architectural history led Barry back to the Somerset County, N.J., area where he grew up. As a founder and director of two nonprofit organizations, the Blairsden Association and the Natirar Association, he worked with government officials and private donors to preserve two architecturally, historically and culturally significant large estates in Somerset County. During this time he met a local realtor, the late John K. Turpin, who shared his interest in Somerset history and architecture. Their work together culminated in a two-volume work, New Jersey Country Houses: The Somerset Hills, in 2004–2005. Barry has contributed articles on various historical topics to several area journals.
Barry has been active in New York City, serving on the boards of trustees of the Downtown Alliance, Friends of P.S. 165, the Bruno Walter Foundation, the New York Choral Society, and also with New Jersey ARC, for which he produced a documentary film on the advantages of employing persons with developmental disabilities.