Entertainment industry executive, philanthropist, devoted husband and loving father, Lawrence R. Barnett touched thousands and thousands of lives in his 98 years. “The Grandfather of The ALS Association,” as he came to be known, first learned about Lou Gehrig’s Disease in 1978 when the wife of a close friend developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
“I asked him what ALS was,” Barnett said. “And I asked how I could help.” Employing his experience in fundraising, Barnett joined the effort to help lead the search for a cure for ALS. In 1985, Barnett was named the first chairman of The ALS Association. Barnett served on the Board of Trustees, as well as its Research, Board Operations, and Development committees. In addition, he served as honorary chair of The ALS Association’s Lou Gehrig Challenge: Cure ALS Research Campaign.
“It is my personal mission to stamp out ALS,” said Barnett, who has personally underwritten numerous research grants, including one that eventually isolated the SOD1 gene in 1993. This discovery led to the development of the first ALS animal model, which was the catalyst for thousands of scientists, worldwide, to enter the field of ALS research. To ensure a steady stream of young scientists studying ALS, Barnett provided funding for The ALS Association’s inaugural Post-Doctoral Fellowship, the Lawrence and Isabel Barnett Post-Doctoral Fellowship Award.
In addition to fighting ALS, the former president of Music Corporation of America (MCA) actively supported his alma mater, Ohio State University. Barnett left Ohio State one quarter shy of graduation as a young man to pursue an entertainment career. Once his children were grown and his career successfully concluded, Barnett went back to Ohio State and finished his B.A. Barnett also supported one of the largest psychiatric hospitals in the country, Hillside Hospital in New York City and supported the Adoption Society of Westchester in White Plains, New York.
Barnett instilled his children and grandchildren with the value of philanthropy, in particular for the ALS cause. One of Barnett’s six children, Larry Barnett, has taken up the ALS cause and serves on National Board of Trustees of The ALS Association providing leadership, support and carrying on the legacy of his father. In addition, Larry Barnett’s teenage son, Beau, represents a third generation of the Barnett family to enter the fight against ALS by first spending a summer vacation volunteering at the national office of The Association, and in 2011, Beau turned a mountain-climbing trek to the summit of Kilimanjaro into an ALS fundraising event.
Lawrence R. Barnett died just a year and three months before his 100th birthday; he was married to Tony Award-winning actress Isabel Bigley Barnett for 53 year until she passed away in 2006.