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John E. Barrett

July 27, 1929 November 29, 2020
John E. Barrett
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Obituary for John E. Barrett

John (Jack) Edward Barrett, 91
Was born July 27, 1929 and passed away peacefully on November 29, 2020. He was preceded in death by his beloved wife of 49 years Belva Lee (Arnold) Barrett, and his son John S. Barrett. Loving father of Cynthia, Thomas (Cathleen), Joseph (Diane), David (Susan) and Beth (née Sawyer) (John). Grandchildren Corey, Jaclyn (Ronald), Joseph (Brittney) Magdalyn, John (Victoria), Melissa (Stuart), Matthew (Christine), Dalton, Nicole, John, Steven, Jacob, Hannah, Sarah, Sedona, Cassidy and great grandchildren Emma, Ryan, Gabby, Levi, James, Ava, Olivia, Jacob, Elise, Maya, Luke, Abigail, and lifelong friend and brother Richard (Dick) Barrett
John E. Barrett was born in Chicago, Illinois on July 27, 1929. As a boy he inquisitively watched the City of Chicago’s infrastructure begin to grow and there was the spark that led him on his path. He attended Chicago Public Schools, graduated and was enrolled at the University of Illinois. After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering in 1952 he started his career in the transportation engineering industry and earned his Professional Engineer and Structural Engineer licenses.

During this time, he met the love of his life, Belva Lee Arnold, at Bob’s BBQ while he was working construction crew on the Indiana Toll Road. Their true love story continued with their marriage on June 11, 1955 and a beautiful family began to grow. A dedicated husband and wife, Jack and Belva’s family blossomed into six children, John, Cindy, Thomas, Joseph, David, and Beth. He instilled in his family his strong Catholic faith and belief in the importance of education. Always influencing his children to be dedicated to their goals and always strive to do their best. He humbly led by example.

Eventually his path in life led him to become Co-founder of Bowman, Barrett & Associates in 1989 with a goal of creating a more personal, hands-on company. That is what he most humbly and proudly succeeded in doing. His caring leadership was second to none and little did he know how much of a true second family they all would become. Upon his retirement at 89 years old he was proud to see his staff and firm become a part of Gannett Fleming and continued to cheer us on every day.

With over 65 years of experience, he earned accolades for his innovative and effective approach to railroad bridge design projects. Known as an authority on structural issues, Jack was highly regarded in the industry as one of the nation’s foremost experts on railroad bridge design. Especially in Chicago, the country’s largest rail hub, with 1,200 trains passing through the City every day. A staggering 75 percent of the nation’s freight comes through the City. Six Class 1 railroads converge in Chicago and he designed projects for all of them. He was an Illinois licensed structural engineer and a licensed professional engineer in 16 other states.

Of the hundreds of projects led by this humble, soft-spoken man, several large structures in the Chicago area stand out. The Chicago and Northwestern Railroad bridge over the Kennedy Expressway, the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad bridge over Western Avenue and Logan Boulevard, and the Norfolk & Western over 111th Street and Harlem Avenue in Worth, IL (known in our family as “Grandpa’s Bridge”) all landmark achievements. The list goes on and on.

Jack was a proud Life Member of American Railway Engineering Maintenance-of-Way Engineering Association (AREMA), past Chairman of AREMA Committee 15 (Steel and Structures), of which he was a member for 30 years. In addition, he served on AREMA Committee 9 (Earthquake Design). He was a Life Member in SEAOI, ASCE and AWS and was involved in many other organizations including NSPE, AISC, and ASTM.
He was an active member of the University of Illinois Alumni Association. He was a member of the U of I President’s Council; a past Director of the U of I Civil Engineering Alumni Association; Chairman of the U of I Alumni Teaching Fellowship Program; and also participated in the University’s Civil Engineering Student Mentor Program. He was awarded the U of I Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1995. He was instrumental in establishing the Bowman, Barrett & Associates Outstanding Scholar Award, presented each year to an exceptional engineering student at the University studying either transportation or structural engineering.
Jack was the recipient of the Structural Engineers Association of Illinois’ John Parmer Award in 2010. When presented with this prestigious award Jack humbly spoke, “One of the great added benefits we Engineers have is to see a bridge, building or project built that we designed or have worked on. There is a welling sense of pride seeing the finished project. We must always remember that we did not do it all alone. From the preliminary studies, specifications, design, construction…a combined talent makes it all happen.”
Jack gave his talents and life’s work to the transportation community improving vital rail infrastructure needed for our nation’s transportation network. The Chicago land community especially enjoys the fruits of his labor as commuter and heavy freight trains roll every day across the many bridges designed by this man. And yet… after all of this, when his workday was done, he came home to work on the soundness of his family and faith. Always there for his children and the love of his life.
A Bridge by Webster definition is “a structure carrying a pathway or roadway over a depression or an obstacle/ or a time, place, or means of connection or transition. It seems as though through all of our life lessons Dad was teaching us all how to build a bridge. So for all of you influenced by our wonderful Father, remember, when you run across an obstacle in your life remember Jack and figure out a way to build a bridge.
Due to Covid-19, masks are required and no loitering is preferred.
Visitation Friday 2:00 p.m. 9:00 p.m.
Funeral Saturday 9:30 a.m. from the Robert J. Sheehy & Sons Funeral Home, 9000 W. 151st Street, Orland Park, IL to Our Lady of the Woods Church, Mass 10:30 a.m. Please register online with the church to attend Mass. The direct link is
Interment Holy Sepulchre Cemetery
In lieu of flowers, Jack requested donations to American Cancer Society, 17060 Oak Park Avenue, Tinley Park, IL 60477 or Mercy Home for Boys & Girls, 1140 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL 60607.
Please leave a memory for the family on John’s Tribute Wall; your stories will bring comfort to his family. 708-857-7878

Previous Events





2:00 PM 12/4/2020 2:00:00 PM - 9:00 PM 12/4/2020 9:00:00 PM
Robert J. Sheehy & Sons Funeral Home - Orland Park

9000 W. 151st St.
Orland Park, IL 60462

Robert J. Sheehy & Sons Funeral Home - Orland Park
9000 W. 151st St. Orland Park 60462 IL
United States





10:30 AM 12/5/2020 10:30:00 AM

10731 W. 131ST STREET

United States

Cemetery Details



6001 W. 111TH STREET
Alsip, IL 60803

6001 W. 111TH STREET Alsip 60803 IL
United States

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