Paul W. Barret, banker, merchant, planter, businessman, and political and civic leader, was closely connected with the economic progress and government of Shelby County from the 1920s through the 1970s. Paul W. Barret Parkway, a controlled-access highway named for him, spans the northern and eastern sections of that county.
Barret was born in Barretville in northeast Shelby County, the son of James Hill Barret, a member and chairman of the Shelby County Quarterly Court (later the Shelby County Commission), and the grandson of Anthony R. Barret, for whom the community of Barretville was named. After graduating from Memphis University School, Barret enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War I.
At the age of twenty-one, Barret founded Barretville Bank and Trust Company and served as its president for more than forty years. Under his leadership it became one of the state's largest and most successful rural banking systems, with eight branches in five towns in Shelby County. His banking interests also included control of Somerville Bank and Trust Company, Rossville Savings Bank, and First State Bank of Henderson. He established The Barret Company, dealers in cotton, and expanded his father's chain of cotton gins to five. He had extensive farming interests in Shelby and Tipton Counties and for many years owned and operated J. H. Barret and Son General Store, founded in 1856.
Barret held public office continuously for forty years and won every elective office for which he was a candidate. He served on the Shelby County Quarterly Court from 1942 until 1966. For a long period he was the senior member and acknowledged leader of that body, championing the interests of rural and suburban areas of Shelby County and promoting education, road building, and fiscal responsibility.
Barret was active in the political organization of Edward Hull “Boss” Crump and by 1958 was generally recognized to be its leader. Barret's name and that of the Stewartville voting precinct were synonymous, and for decades “Paul Barret's box” unfailingly turned out practically unanimous votes for the organization's candidates.
Barret and his wife of fifty-seven years, Sarah Dickey Barret (1898-1978), are interred at Pleasant Union Cemetery near Barretville.