Leaving but not gone


In 1972, Richard Nixon was in the White House, Brandy was at the top of the pop charts, Lady Sings the Blues was introducing a new generation to Billie Holiday and Janet Barnett got her first job at the Alexandria Department of Recreation.

Now, after 35 years, she is retiring. She will become the new director of Senior Services of Alexandria.

I was hired as a playground leader at Patrick Henry, Barnett said. I was a college student at the University of Maryland and needed a job.

Aside from her studies, she has never left. Gerome Buddie Ford hired her. He was never the director of the department, but he was the face of the department. Everyone knew him, Barnett said.

While the department has changed over the years, by the time Barnett was hired it was fully integrated. We always welcomed everyone. The days of segregation at rec centers had ended just before I came, Barnett said.

Mayor Bill Euille knew Barnett then. We first met as students at Jefferson Junior High School, he said. She went on to Hammond High School, and I went to GW and then to T.C. Williams. She has always been dedicated to this city and to the people here.

When Janet called to tell me that she was leaving, I was in Europe. I was very sad because it is going to be difficult to replace her. On the other hand, I was pleased for her because she is moving on to accept an incredible opportunity. She will serve the senior citizens of our community well, Euille said.

Barnett has served in many capacities with the Department of Recreation, but her most memorable is opening Chinquapin Park Recreation Center. Cheryl Laurence and I were there at 6 a.m. that first day, waiting for our first customer. We were so excited when someone came in to swim, Barnett said.

Over the past 35 years, many of the centers have undergone changes and new ones have been built. Chinquapin, of course, was built and the Center at Ramsay and the Buddy Ford Nature Center. Now, were redoing Charles Houston, too. Almost none of the centers are as they were when I first came, Barnett said.

We are offering more sports for children and adults and serving more people than ever before. I am very proud to have been a part of this department, Barnett said.

While she has served under many directors, it is the staff to whom she is the most grateful. Those are the people who made my job easy, she said, like the building engineer at Chinquapin and all of the other members of the staff who work so hard every day. They really are the ones who make this department so special.

She will now embark on another journey, as head of Senior Services. At the Rec Department, I have worked with every segment of the population. Now I get to focus on one group. I am really excited about my new job, she said.

Former City Manager Vola Lawson has known Barnett since the 1970s. Janets zest for life and commitment to this community has served the city well at the Rec Department and will serve Alexandrias senior citizens well now. I wish her the best, Lawson said.

Barnett will assume her new responsibilities in late October.