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"Stalwart in airport marketing taking off on second retirement"

June 26, 2000

by Chip Jones
Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch

Bill Barker never meant to make airport marketing a full-time job. "I was
thinking maybe 20 hours a week," Barker recalled recently.

In 1994, after a career that spanned radio, sales and drag racing, Barker
retired at age 65 from the Retail Merchants Association of Greater Richmond.
He thought he was done with full-time employment.

Then he got a call from the executive director of Richmond International
Airport to take on a few special projects.

"I hired him to get help with governmental relations, which was sorely
lacking at the time," said David Blackshear, then Richmond's airport chief
who left last year for Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Barker was offered part-time work, which was fine by him. At the time, he
could only earn $100 a week without risking the loss of Social Security

But Barker was never one to do things in a small, or slow, way. A Richmond
native and 1951 graduate of Randolph-Macon College, he had a colorful career
and life.

"I bought the first Corvette Stingray that came to the Richmond area in
1963," he said. "It was about $5,000."

He used to drag race around the state, from Fredericksburg to Emporia. "That
was my Sunday afternoon activity."

He also did a stint as a disc jockey in Asheville, N.C., in the mid-1960s.
He was friends with a station owner who dared him to get behind a

"I took a challenge to spin records from nine until midnight," he said.

Barker was working as a buyer for a department store at the time, but got
hooked on radio. He started working nightly.

"I got to meet Percy Sledge, Billy Joe Royal and Jerry Lee Lewis." And he
interviewed such ministars of the day as Jay North, star of TV's "Dennis the

When he went to work at Richmond International, Barker began with government
relations but soon moved to indoor advertising.

There's been debate among airport officials about whether the terminal is
stuffed too full of display ads and products - everything from cars to air
conditioners. But Barker thinks his numbers speak for themselves. After
starting as a part-time employee, he helped boost Richmond International's
advertising revenues many times over.

Starting at about $125,000 a year in the mid-1990s, airport advertising grew
to nearly $600,000.

"It was fun because David said, `Bill, you can bring in $1 million a year to
the airport.' "

Barker didn't hit the seven-figure mark, but he helped make indoor
advertising a major profit center. This, in turn, helped the airport keep
down rental fees for airlines operating in Richmond, according to

Barker did this on what amounted to a shoestring budget and, until the past
couple of years, a $100 a week salary.

He also helped bring in local advertisers, replacing many of the "disease of
the month" public health messages greeting visitors to Richmond. Barker
lured local car, furniture and clothing companies to advertise their wares.

Soon, well-known retailers such as Franco's Fine Clothier, La Difference and
Richmond Honda began appearing around the terminal.

"We think it's been effective," said Max Pearson, a Richmond- based car
dealer who owns Richmond Honda and 13 other dealerships in Virginia, Texas
and Florida. "They can see the cars [at the terminal] in person."

Barker's job became more time-consuming, and, at age 71, he recently decided
to retire.

Airport officials say he'll be missed.

"Bill was always thinking of how can we promote this airport," said Thomas
E. Pruitt, an airport commissioner from Henrico County. "He was like a
private entrepreneur. He turned that whole program around."

Commissioner David A. Kaechele called Barker "a community-minded person
willing to give his time and effort to help."

Looking back, Barker says simply, "I'm proud of what I did while I was
there. It was fun."


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