Carl Frank Barron ’38, business innovator and philanthropist, died on February 16, 2014, in Belmont, Massachusetts, at the age of ninety-seven.
He was born on September 7, 1916, in Cambridge, Mass., and prepared for college at Arlington High School and the New School in Cambridge. At Bowdoin, he founded the Thorndike Club—a haven for Jewish and other minority students who were excluded from fraternities—which later evolved into the Alpha Rho Upsilon (“All Races United”) fraternity.
Thus began a lifelong passion for fostering relationships among diverse people; he frequently said he was not a fan of diversity if it did not result in unity. After Bowdoin, he attended Harvard Business School, where he noticed that many of his older classmates had trouble finding decently furnished housing. His mother remarked, “It’s too bad you can’t rent furniture the way I rent apartments.” He never finished his business degree. Instead, he borrowed $1,500 from his family, combined it with eight dollars of his own money and began renting furniture, which was unheard of at the time. He ended up founding not only a business—Putman Furniture Leasing Co.—but an entire industry. He sold the company in 2002 after the death of his wife, his partner. Although he lived for more than seventy years in Belmont, Mass., his heart belonged to nearby Cambridge, where the Barron Building and the Carl F. Barron Plaza stand in Central Square, and where, as the ceremonial “Mayor of Central Square,” he was the president of the Central Square Business Association for more than 40 years. He also served as president of the International Furniture Rental Association, was founder and chairman of the national trade association ARNET, founder and chairman of the Combined Cambridge Business Associations, lifetime chairman of the IFRA Honors Committee and lifetime honorary director of the Rental Housing Association of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board. He established the Barron Family Fund for Judaic Studies at Harvard University’s Widener Library, the CFB Chair in Marketing at Cambridge College, the CFB Cambridge Fire Department Award, the CFB Belmont Fire Department Award, the Ruth and Carl F. Barron Cambridge Police Award, and the Barron Family Public Works Department Award, as well as the Barron Center for Men’s Health at Mt. Auburn Hospital and the Carl F. Barron Fund for Business and Finance at Bowdoin. Honors include a Salvation Army Leadership Award, Hildebrand Family Self-Help Service Award, Cambridge Property Owners Association Award for his role as president and co-founder, Cambridge Mayor’s Appreciation Award for his work on behalf of seniors, Cambridge Chamber of Commerce recognition for sixty years “as a leader of business, politics, philanthropy and public relations,” and the Cambridge YMCA’s Spirit, Mind, and Body Award. He served on seven non-profit boards, was honored by the Massachusetts Board of School Committees for giving five scholarships every year and by the Middlesex District Attorney for civic involvement. In 2006, at the age of ninety, he received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Cambridge College, where he began teaching marketing at the age of eighty-nine. His interests included a personal library of more than 3,000 books—all non-fiction—and extensive collections of Wedgewood china, Moser glass, and snuff boxes. He published an autobiography in 1991, was the author of a manual on psychology in business and a lifetime member of the American Philatelic Society, and he designed furniture, jewelry, and crystal. Every summer for more than twenty years he hosted 100 people at a “Cambridge Day” at his summer home on Cape Cod as a way to bring together a cross-section of Cambridge society. For this, he was dubbed “Dr. Catalyst.” He said his only regret in life was not marrying his wife earlier so they could have had more time together. He is survived by his daughters, Diane Davis, Dr. Arlene P. Seal, Judith Lambert, and Lynne March; son Kenneth Barron; nine grandchildren, including Sivana L. Barron ’15 and Robert L. Barron ’17; and ten great-grandchildren. He was predeceased in 2001 by Ruth, his wife of sixty-one years, and by his brother, Stanley P. Barron ’40.