Guest Columns


Chips may have fallen, but Denver’s water chief will be forever etched in our memories

Chips Barry, this special man, kind, caring, committed to his work and family, never one to push for accolades although he well deserved them for his many years of service to Colorado and Denver. It seems so unfair that this terrible accident would happen just as he was settling in to his new challenges as a farmer. Yet, when I think of him, what I think of most of all is laughter. There was never a time with Chips when he wasn’t making you laugh.

I first met Chips back in about 1976, when he was Deputy Director of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Someone had dreamed up the crazy idea of a legislative-executive tennis tournament and four of us showed up. Sam Zakhem and I teamed up to represent the Legislature. (It was the only time Sam and I were on the same side of anything.) Harris Sherman and Chips represented the Lamm administration. Chips was a superb player and Sam and I never had a chance. In fact, we didn’t win a single game. The unusual thing about this match, however, was Chips’ serving.

When Chips served to me, his serve was always in but when he served to Sam, the serves would come rocketing in waist high. Pretty soon Sam was ducking and dodging in terror.

Finally Sam took me aside and said, “Morgan, I don’t understand this Chips Barry person. When he serves to your side, he never misses. But when he serves to me, they’re all waist high.”

No, Sam, I wanted to say as I watched Chips and Harris laughing at us. It’s not your waist he’s aiming for.

Chips Barry

A more recent story. Several years ago I was putting together a book of anecdotes about Joe Shoemaker with whom I had served on the Joint Budget Committee. Chips called and wanted to contribute a piece based on Joe’s tenure on the Denver Water Board. It was entitled Easter Eggs. Here are two short quotes.

“Joe Shoemaker could not suppress his time-honored and deeply entrenched instinct to dig ever more deeply into any budget number. Our response to this instinct was to engage in something we came to call “hiding Easter eggs.”

“We needed to put some things in the budget that Joe could find (with some effort, of course) and which he could then cut, thereby showing us, himself and others that his keen mind and budget-management abilities had not diminished. It was important to include things that Joe could pounce upon and then eliminate. If we were successful, we protected important programs and proposed expenditures from his budget knife, and we gave ourselves and Mr. Shoemaker some momentary enjoyment. In this setting, “Easter eggs” were always real programs with features that otherwise would be or needed to be cut.”

This was Chips. He had that special joy and enthusiasm, that ability to turn anything, even the most serious of issues, into fun and laughter. Our hearts go out to Gail and her family for the loss of this unique and wonderful man.

Morgan Smith is a former state legislator, commissioner of the Colorado Department of Agriculture and director of the Colorado International Trade Office.

EDITOR’S?NOTE: A Toast and Celebration to honor Chips Barry will be held May 21, 2010, 4:30 p.m., at the Wells Fargo Theater at the Convention Center in Denver. The celebration is open to the public and doors open at 3:30 p.m.

Barry was a Denver native who attended Denver Public Schools, graduating from George Washington High School in 1962. He graduated cum laude from Yale College in 1966 and earned a law degree from Columbia University Law School in 1969. Prior to his position at Denver Water, he was the executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources for Gov. Roy Romer from 1987 to 1990. He was named manager of Denver Water in January 1991.

During his tenure at Denver Water, the utility implemented a conservation program that is nationally and internationally recognized as a model of success, built a recycled water distribution system, invested millions of dollars in improvements at its treatment facilities, monitored recovery from several devastating wildfires in Denver Water’s watershed and led the work to recover from one of the worst droughts in the city’s history. The 1997 Integrated Resource Plan, which details Denver Water’s long-term water supply plan, was adopted under Barry. He also was very active in regional cooperative efforts to open up new relations and continual dialogues among water providers throughout Colorado, and in national efforts dealing with global climate change, water infrastructure funding and regulations concerning transfer of water from one basin to another.

He is survived by his wife, Gail; two sons and their families, Duncan and Karolina Barry, and Pennan Barry and Winifred Kao with grandson, Malcolm Barry-Kao; as well as two sisters, Ellen and Rebecca. In lieu of flowers, donations are welcomed at Water for People,