William “Bill” Barrow didn’t just love cars. He made them his life’s work, reviving a dormant Denver car show into what is today the largest consumer show in Colorado.
The Denver Auto Show welcomes thousands of people every spring to the Colorado Convention Center for a peek at the latest and shiniest in new car technology — in no small part because of the work of Barrow, who led the Colorado Automotive Dealers Association for 28 years.
“He was a car guy. He loved new cars. He loved to drive new cars. He loved to promote new cars. He couldn’t wait to get his next new car,” said Tim Jackson, current president of the dealers association.
Barrow died Aug. 22 at his home in Oro Valley, Ariz., after a prolonged illness. He was 72.
Only the group’s third leader in its 100-year history, Barrow served as president of the dealers association from 1976 until his retirement in 2005.
When he took the wheel, CADA had a staff of three full-time employees. The Denver Auto Show, one of the nation’s first car shows when it debuted in 1902, was dormant.
Under his leadership, the staff of three became a staff of 10, and the car show was reborn.
“He was a wonderful man, a wise leader of our industry,” said Jeff Carlson, owner of Glenwood Springs Ford and a longtime colleague. “We could always rely on him for the right answers on the particular issues that were arising at the moment. He was forward-thinking and a good dealer guy, a good car guy.”
Over the years, Barrow was a dedicated advocate for new-car dealers statewide, helping guide the industry forward from a regulatory, legal and legislative standpoint, Jackson said.
“He was the face and the voice of the auto industry in Colorado for those 28 years,” Jackson said. “When legislators had questions, they knew who to call. They’d call Bill Barrow.”
Carlson, who has served as Colorado’s representative to the National Automotive Dealers Association since 2005, a position Barrow asked him to take, said Barrow also led the push to move the local association’s headquarters from 1601 Emerson St. in North Capitol Hill to a more prominent location at 290 E. Speer Blvd.
The new headquarters building, which looks more like a small mansion than a trade association, is named in his honor, the William D. Barrow Building.
“The facility has been awesome as far as helping us with training, meetings, hosting all forms and types of events,” Carlson said. “That was Bill and (wife) Merilee’s idea. It really did change the image of CADA in Denver and in Colorado and nationally.”
A celebration of Barrow’s life will be held at the CADA William D. Barrow Building at a date to be determined.
Denver Post reporter Alicia Wallace contributed to this report.
Emilie Rusch: 303-954-2457