Jean Barry

Jean Barry, 98, died June 17, 2021, peacefully in Edmonds, Washington.

She was born Jean McGillvray to Blanche and Clyde McGillvray on May 12, 1923, in Seattle. She moved to Ketchikan in 1927 at the age of 4 when her father joined his brother, Max, to work at Libe’s Cabinet Shop. Her father was a carpenter who helped construct homes and buildings throughout Ketchikan, eventually purchasing the business from Libe in 1937 to form McGillvray Bros. General Contractors.

Jean McGillvray, with the gift of absolute pitch, started playing the piano at the age of 3, picking up melodies by ear.  

Her K-12 education occurred at Main School in Ketchikan, where she graduated in 1941. Music was her focus during her school years, during which she played bass fiddle in the orchestra, sang in choir, and played the piano at every opportunity.

 “She was an accomplished musician and performed for family, friends, church, and community throughout her life,” her family writes.

 In the early days of WWII, she played in a Ketchikan combo, performing at USO gatherings to entertain the servicemen stationed in the area. She met her future husband, Jim Barry, a cartographer and communications specialist, at U.S, Coast Guard Base Ketchikan. They married on Halloween in 1942.

In 1948, Mr. Barry transitioned from the Coast Guard into the McGillvray Bros. family business, which constructed Houghtaling Elementary, the University of Alaska Southeast buildings, and many other government and commercial buildings in Ketchikan, Sitka and the Southeast Alaska region. Mrs. Barry assisted with payroll and secretarial duties.

During her 53 years in Ketchikan, Mrs. Barry was an active member of the music scene. She often was the accompanist for performances by the Ketchikan Community Chorus and First City Players. She was the original pianist for the debut season of “The Fish Pirate’s Daughter.” With a penchant for jazz, she also performed at clubs and restaurants in town.

“Jean was a big Ketchikan promoter,” her family writes. “In the old days when cruise ships were limited to Canadian lines and AMHS ferries, people onboard might have glimpsed her waving a welcome or farewell with a kitchen towel from an open window of her Front Street home.”

 As the cruise ship and tourist industry began to grow, Mrs. Barry, Boots Adams, and several friends donned custom-made parkas, big smiles and handed out pamphlets to visitors as original members of the Ketchikan Greeters — part of an early promotional effort started by the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce around 1970.

“It wasn’t unusual to see her mugging for the camera with celebrity visitors like John Wayne and Tennessee Ernie Ford in those nascent tourism days,” her family writes.

In 1980, Jean and Jim Barry closed shop at McGillvray Bros., sold the Main Street property (now the site of the Ketchikan Police Department) to the City of Ketchikan, and moved to their second home in Edmonds to be closer to family.

“Being gregarious and generous with her sunny smile and loving personality, Jean made many friends along the way,” her family writes.

 Mrs. Barry was preceded in death by her husband, Jim; sister, Mary Louise Nilles; and her parents.

She is survived by her daughter, Diane (Larry) Spelhaug of Edmonds; daughter, Susan (Hal) Brookins of West Seattle; son, Doug (Kris) Barry of Tualatin, Oregon; grandchildren, Lorrie (John) Schleg of Issaquah, Washington, Keri (Sean) Cable of Bellevue, Washington, and Geoff Geis of Tualatin; great-grandchildren, Katherine and Clayton Schleg, and Alek and Devin Cable; and nephews Pete Nilles, Gerry Nilles, Nick Worth and Ben Worth.

A private, family celebration of life will be held later this summer.