PITTSFIELD >> He was a chemist and she was a teacher. They lived all their married life, some 35 years, in the same house at 239 Columbia Street in Adams.

Graduates of local schools, they settled near to where their parents had raised them, entering adulthood in communities that had known them since birth. She served on a church altar guild, he on the town finance committee. They didn't have any children.

Outside of work, they shared a passion for photography, traveling widely in search of new inspiration and earning recognition for their talent. He died early after an illness and she died at home, just shy of her 90th birthday.

Reflection on past

In some ways, the story of Margery and William Barrett throws open a window on a world that has vanished. Their lives reflect a past we reckon with every day. The high schools from which they graduated have long since changed names or consolidated. Due to declining numbers, the parish where William was a member merged with another and the building where Margery once worshipped was sold.

Their personal milestones — Margery's 1927 triumph in a baking contest, her wedding shower seven years later, their silver anniversary in 1959 — were recorded in the North Adams Transcript. That newspaper, family-run for 80 of its 170 years, ceased publication in 2014.

And William drew his last breath, in 1969, at what was then called North Adams Hospital. The hospital, established in 1884, closed in March of 2014.

The challenges of recent years continue to test our region. Yet in other, more crucial ways, the story of these two extraordinary, ordinary people points the way to a brighter future.

A widow for nearly as long as she was married, Margery inherited Pfizer stock from William and her father, both of whom had worked at Specialty Minerals. Two decades ago, she used that stock to establish a charitable fund to support her hometown.

At first, the fund awarded grants anonymously. It must have given Margery a private joy to know that schools and sports teams, libraries and community centers were getting an unexpected — and significant — boost for their programs.

Upon her death in 2000, the remainder of her trust was added to the fund, to be known as the William J. and Margery S. Barrett Fund for Adams, Cheshire and Savoy. At her instruction, her name was publicly announced for the first time by Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, where the fund is housed. Since then, a committee of community advisors has been entrusted to make investments in these towns, in accordance with Margery's wishes.

Those investments begin at the beginning: with children. A large, multi-year grant to the school district from the Barrett Fund is helping expand early childhood programs that are proven to increase school readiness and parent engagement.

Using its significant capital to leverage additional philanthropy, the fund has committed over $50,000 in challenge grants to the district's educational enrichment fund. This year alone, archery, first aid and even timber framing classes are coming to our schools, teaching new skills and uncovering talents in our students. The fund is also nearly finished building a $200,000 endowment exclusively for college scholarships.

Beyond the classroom, the Barrett Fund makes it possible for nonprofit leaders to participate in professional development with national experts who are helping them make their organizations sustainable for the long term.

Just the beginning

All this is in addition to two decades of general support through nearly 350 grants to local nonprofits, schools and students. Community policing. adult immunizations. garden clubs. play groups. You name it, the Barrett Fund has supported it over the years.

As 2015 drew to a close, total giving from the fund surpassed the $2 million mark. This is an astonishing sum, and it's just the start. With more than twice that amount permanently endowed, the people and places that are helping Adams, Cheshire and Savoy to move ahead can count on the Barrett Fund for decades to come.

He was a chemist and she was a teacher. They worked hard and lived honorably. And no one in the towns they loved will ever be the same.

Ellen Kennedy, the president of Berkshire Community College, is chair of the committee of the William J. and Margery S. Barrett Fund at Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation.