Sunday Spotlight: The patriarch of 'Bristol's royal family'

Published on Saturday, 12 August 2017 21:27
Written by Bob Montgomery

Staff Writer

Who are the most notable people from Bristol? There are lists out there that include such names as industrialist Albert Rockwell (1862-1925), who is regarded as Bristol’s No. 1 benefactor; 1992 Olympic gold medal-winning synchronized swimmers Karen and Sarah Josephson (1964 - ), actor Gary Burghoff (1943 - ), writer Michael Reiss (1959 - ), and Old Dominion University President John R. Broderick (1957 - ), among many others.

There has yet to be any listing that includes lifelong Bristol residents.

Retired industrialist Wallace “Wally” Barnes is one of my choices for being an addition. I know him personally and find him quite interesting, as well as having been or being benefactor/contributor in various ways at the local, state and national levels.

His life should bring pride and inspire those in Bristol, because he has had a long history of doing positive things and getting those results from many undertakings.

Barnes, is a retired president and CEO of the Barnes Group, formally known as the Associated Spring Corp. before the name change in the mid-1970s. Barnes Group has been a Fortune 500 company, and has the “B” symbol on the New York Stock Exchange. We recently wrote about Wally’s son, Tom, ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange in celebrating Barnes’ 100 years in business.

Wally grew up and was raised here before going on to a higher education. He was an aviation cadet in the Army Air Corps during World War II and later became a lawyer and practiced here, while also dabbling in politics, locally, as a state legislator and later facing future Connecticut Gov. Tom Meskill in a Republican primary for the state’s top government position. Meskill won and went on to become governor between 1971 and 1975.

Wally was heavily involved in state politics for a number of years, while also taking part in Bristol prior to that.

As the patriarch of the Barnes family here, politics has always been an important part of Wally’s life and is further witnessed in being the husband of Washington, D. C. businesswoman Barbara Franklin, who served a secretary of commerce under President Richard Nixon.

Wally and his family have given much of their time to Bristol, as well as to ventures outside of town. I’ve seen firsthand the kindness and recall one time when I was at Greer’s Chicken and this fellow told the girl at the cash register that he was paying for my take-out. I didn’t recognize this man at first and asked his name. “Mr. Nobody,” he answered, before climbing into his old white van and driving off towards Chippens Hill.

He was wearing an old farmer’s-type hat when I spoke with him and a couple of days later I figured out who he was. He was Wally’s son, Tom. Very successful folks, but a down to earth family.

Another important factor in my thoughts about Wally and family is the fact that they are direct descendants of Bristol’s first settler, Ebenezer Barnes, who built here in 1728. I have referred to this Barnes family a “Bristol’s royal family” and Wally is the family patriarch.

I’m sure there are many things I don’t know about Wally, but I know he’s been a leader all of his life and has done things a lot of us are not aware of, good things, those he would never brag about. I do know, in closing, that I’m proud to be considered a friend of his with a chance to chat with him and a group of his other friends once a month for lunch.

Contact Bob Montgomery at

Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol, General News on Saturday, 12 August 2017 21:27. Updated: Saturday, 12 August 2017 21:30.