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Who was “Big Ed” Barnette (1949 –1991)?
By George Smith



He was proud, he was an Industrial Engineer, and he was the most ambitious person I ever met.

A Brave Pioneer

Ed Barnette chose to study engineering at a time when 8 out of 10 black freshmen dropped out every year. This was also a time in American history when we couldn’t even get a black quarterback in professional or Division 1 college football. Why? Because the decision makers didn’t think our people had the mental capacity to handle the rigors of leading a high performance football team. I guess they didn’t know about the hundreds of young black engineers who were graduating from Division 1 colleges every year. Today, thousands of black engineers earn degrees every year. “Big Ed” believed in us … he showed “them” didn’t he?

A Social Magnet

Ed was a non-stop talker with an engaging personality. People were drawn to him because he was a fun loving guy. He attended every party and every social gathering, and apparently, he went to every engineering class too.

A Lofty Goal Setter

Ed was an ambitious leader. He wanted to live the American Dream. Ed always set high goals and then pursued them with uncommon passion and energy. He had high goals for his life, his Greek fraternity, and our engineering society.

A Gregarious Giant

Ed Barnette never met a stranger. He didn’t wait for people to approach him. He jumped at the chance to get to know everyone he encountered. He was figuratively and literally the biggest man on campus. “Big Ed” introduced himself to everyone and at 6’6” with the bulk of a professional football player, he was impossible to forget.

A Visionary Founder

As an incoming senior in Industrial Engineering, Ed felt that he, and the other seniors, had a responsibility to help the incoming freshmen. So he went to Arthur Bond, an Electrical Engineering PhD candidate and asked for help. Art told Ed about a similar group of black engineers at the University of Michigan and agreed to write a Constitution for the Purdue’s Black Society of Engineers. With the BSE Constitution in hand, and Arthur Bond as his guide, Edward E. Barnette, Jr. became the founding President of our “Purdue Society”.

A Role Model for the Chicago 6

NSBE’s own Chicago 6 were among the black freshmen Ed Barnette was determined to help. Thank God for “Big Ed” Barnette!

A Successful Corporate Executive

Ed Barnettes’ career was on the fast track. He became a Senior Level Corporate Executive with the Digital Equipment Corporation and achieved many of his lofty personal goals. In his senior management role, he was always mindful of his responsibility to inspire, help and mentor the younger black engineers he preceded.

A Servant of the Black Community

For 7 years Ed served as a judge for the NAACP’s Academic, Cultural, and Technological Scientific Olympics. This program recognizes the achievements of outstanding high school students who come together to compete for Gold, Silver, and Bronze Medals. As a result of his industrial accomplishments, in 1980, at only 31 years old, Edward E. Barnette was declared one of the “Outstanding Young Men in America”. Ed only lived another 11 years after receiving that honor. If he was still with us today, he would only be 67 years old, just think about what he would have done with an extra 25+ years.

A Champion of the National Society of Black Engineers

As a professional, Edward Barnette continued to serve and support NSBE’s mission. He was a proud member of NSBE’s Corporate Board of Affiliates. The Purdue University NSBE Chapter recognized the significance of Ed’s priceless contributions to our cause by establishing an annual scholarship named the Edward E. Barnette Achievement Award. Fittingly, Mr. Barnette was NSBE’s first recipient of the Golden Torch Award for outstanding academic, industry, and community achievements.

A Mighty Good Man who could not be discouraged … NO MATTER WHAT

In addition to all of the above traits, Ed Barnette was a beloved husband, father, fraternity brother, and a likeable friend to many, many people. He died way too young in 1991 at the age of 41 years old. Those of us, who were so very fortunate to know “Big Ed”, miss him dearly. And we will