The Barrett family name first came to prominence in the 1950s through the work of Dr. Charles Barrett, a radiologist at General Hospital (now University of Cincinnati Medical Center). Barrett, who died in 1989, brought radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer to the city—raising the funds to buy the equipment and constructing the building to house it. The doctor led a dual worklife, serving also as president, then chairman and CEO of Western & Southern Life Insurance Company, a firm he’d joined in the early 1940s as associate medical director.
A curious, tough-minded, natural leader with a gift for managing people, he passed the torch of civic engagement on to his children. His son William is currently the director of UC’s Cancer Institute; Francis is an attorney and serves on UC’s board of trustees; Michael is a federal judge for the Southern District of Ohio; and John returned to his father’s insurance roots as president and CEO of Western & Southern. Under John Barrett’s leadership, Western & Southern has evolved into a nationally known financial services venture (it currently manages more than $70 billion in assets), and has become a major player in the development of downtown, erecting Great American Tower at Queen City Square (the city’s tallest building) and re-envisioning (some might say colonizing) the area around Lytle Park.
It’s a role that has put the family name in the firing line—notably in 2013, when Western & Southern sparked a turf war in its attempt to acquire the historic Anna Louise Inn, a women’s shelter bordering Lytle Park, and turn it into an upscale hotel. John—and Fran, who served as counsel—took a beating in the court of public opinion during their (ultimately successful) fight. In five years, “nobody will remember the consternation,” John predicted when the shelter finally agreed to sell and move. And when Western & Southern is finished with it, he added, “they’ll all say, ‘Wow.’”