Dr. M. James ’60 and April Barrett Make the Largest Gift in Prep’s History
In March, Dr. M. James and April P. Barrett made a $5-million gift to Fairfield Prep—the largest individual gift received in the school’s 80-year history. The Barrett’s record-setting donation will support the five pillars laid out in the school’s 2022 strategic plan, one that will influence the course of Fairfield Prep as it starts its next 80 years.
“April and Jim are the first big investors in the new strategic plan,” said President Christian Cashman. “We are so grateful for their support and their enthusiasm for the direction of the school. The Barretts have a deep belief in the value of Jesuit education, a 450-year-old model that still has relevance for our day. They appreciate its commitment to excellence, academic rigor, and social justice.”
“College and graduate school and everything that came after would not have been possible without the foundation laid at the Prep,”
The Barrett name is a familiar one at Prep: In 2020, Jim and April donated $2.5 million to transform the fourth floor of Xavier Hall into the Barrett Science Center. That facility is one Jim can truly appreciate: He is a scientist who earned a B.S. in chemistry from Boston College and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Tennessee Medical School. He started his career at the pharmaceutical company Smith Kline & French as the director of a clinical biochemistry lab in Boston, then in Dallas, before moving to California as the company’s head of research and development. He went on to earn an M.B.A. from Santa Clara University and, at age 39, became Smith Kline & French’s youngest vice president leading the entire lab division.
Jim was then recruited by a venture capital company to turn around Bethesda Research Labs in Maryland, one of the very first biotech companies. After taking that company public in 1984, he started Genetic Therapy in 1989, an early pioneer in gene therapy technology. Jim sold that company in 1996 and briefly retired. “We spent the four years traveling the world and enjoying ourselves,” recalled April, who was the executive director of the nonprofit Jung Society of Washington, DC. She continues to serve on the board of that organization today.
Eventually, the venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates (NEA) lured Jim back to develop its burgeoning health care practice. He quickly took to the work, becoming a general partner. Jim remained at NEA for 20 years before retiring for the second time in 2018. “I went from being a scientist and quasi-business guy to becoming an entrepreneur,” he explained. “It was a great, fun experience for me in the second half of life.”
Jim’s success in the world of venture capital is a long way away from his upbringing in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He was the oldest of five brothers—all of whom attended Prep—and worked three jobs to help with tuition: delivering newspapers in the morning, manning the switchboard in Bellarmine Hall in the evenings, and caddying at a local golf club during the summers.
"Prep transformed me as a personality and a person. It taught me the world of the mind—a world I’d never seen before as an adolescent."
Looking back, Jim unequivocally credits Fairfield Prep as the bedrock of his success. “College and graduate school and everything that came after would not have been possible without the foundation laid at the Prep,” he reflected. “For that reason, I’ve always felt an obligation to the Prep. Prep transformed me as a personality and a person. It taught me the world of the mind—a world I’d never seen before as an adolescent. And because April and I have been so fortunate, we wanted to give back.”
“Jim jokes that he and Prep have grown together. He was born in 1942—the same year Prep was founded,” said Vice President for Advancement Robert Cottle. “In Jim’s 50-year professional career, he witnessed tremendous change in the biomedical sciences. Prep, too, has undergone tremendous change in that same period. Support from donors like Jim and April is vital in ensuring that Fairfield Prep can evolve and grow while remaining true to its mission.”