Barrett’s printing industry career began aged 16 when he joined AB Dick in London as a trainee printer. His boss at the time described him as “a spoiler of good paper” but realised that his talents lay elsewhere and moved him into a sales role, where he excelled.
He moved on to selling finishing equipment at Oscar Friedheim, and from there to Milthorp International in Wakefield which was the world’s biggest used machinery dealer at that time. The owner David Hulme became a lifelong friend.
Subsequently, Milthorp became part of Robert Maxwell’s sprawling empire, a connection that would provide Barrett with a variety of entertaining anecdotes to add to an incredible repertoire of stories and experiences gleaned during his long career and global travels.
Indeed, after Maxwell’s empire collapsed, Barrett went to the auction of assets and acquired Maxwell’s luxurious boardroom table and matching chairs – still in pride of place at Grafitec.
After Milthorp Barrett went on to set up Dornier North, working for Dornier Machinery owner John Roadnight.
When Dornier’s parent company collapsed in the early 1990s, Barrett saw an opportunity to strike out on his own and established Grafitec with his son Chris.
He also wrote a regular column for Printweek, where he shared insights into machinery old and new, and his encyclopaedic knowledge of printing equipment made him an invaluable source for journalists writing about the used machinery market.
Roadnight, now director at PressXchange, paid tribute and said: “I joined Dorner, my father’s company, in October 1971, and a week or two later I was sent up to Wakefield, to Milthorp, to meet the owner and the MD of the largest machinery dealership in the world – by far.
“Both Tony and David Hulme showed me extraordinary patience and kindness, and in working closely with and knowing Tony for the next 50 years nothing ever happened to change that initial impression of him,” Roadnight said.
“Our sector is one with many big egos, but that was not Tony. He was always modest and considerate, giving his time and knowledge as freely to a gormless novice like me as to a powerful potential customer. His ability and enormous appetite for work was extraordinary – he worked until a few days of his death – and my abiding image of him is his working flat-out on exhibition stands while any punter remained in the hall, long after the rest of us had sneaked off to the beer tent.”
Roadnight said it was “amazing” that Hulme passed away the day after Barrett.
“When Bill Jones of Exel WhatsApped me to tell me, he said they would be having a high old time in heaven celebrating together. I disagreed: no, Tony would be huddled in a corner with the Angel Gabriel trying to sell him a 1980s window-patcher.”
Barrett was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 18 months ago. He died on 14 November, a month shy of his 84th birthday.
He was pre-deceased by Brenda, his wife of nearly 60 years, who died five years ago.
Barrett is survived by son Chris and daughter Alison; grandchildren Dale, Daniel, Katie and Ellie; and great-grandchildren Charlie and Freya.
The funeral took place at the end of last month. Chris Barrett said it was “a sad but lovely day with a great turn out”.