Growing up with his family in Zambia (Africa), where his father owned retail stores, Barry Patel, at 16, and his five siblings, were sent to the United Kingdom for their education. He chose to become a pharmacist and received his degree from the University of Bradford in Yorkshire.
“I actually wanted to become a physician but, as a foreign exchange student, competition to get into medical schools in England was hard,” Patel said. “I did love pharmacy, however.”
Since the U.S. did not recognize degrees from abroad, Patel obtained a second degree in pharmacy in Southwestern Oklahoma State University Weatherford, Oklahoma when they moved to the states, then worked with the Revco Drug Store in Greenville, Texas, establishing a deep love for our magnificent state. Then opportunity came a knocking.
Being an entrepreneur at heart, Barry had an opportunity to build and operate a What-a-Burger in Canton, Texas. Patel and his other brothers had built and were operating a couple of hotels in the area as well. It seemed like the next step, to franchise a Texas-loved brand. The endeavor went well and allowed Barry to continue working as a pharmacist. But then, another opportunity came next which he had to pursue.
“My brother-in-law, who lived in New York City, kept bugging me to make a big move. The next thing I knew, I moved my wife and two young children and opened three stores – one in Brooklyn and two in the Bronx. We lived there for 10 years, and I loved it,” he said.
Meanwhile, his family’s business in hotels was developing, and Patel had a partnership in the family business, even opened a hotel in New Hampshire during his stay in New York. But Texas was in his heart, and he yearned to return. Deciding to raise their children in Texas and leave his successful pharmacies behind, the Patels relocated to South Padre Island after building a Ramada Inn there with his brother while still in New York.
Establishing their presence with hotels across the Rio Grande Valley, they built and sold hotels, continually moving to the next challenge, next hotel – sometimes using name brands, sometimes building independents.
In 2015, Barry, became Mayor of South Padre Island in 2015. He has consistently been committed in his support of local non-profit organizations, community events and public organizations, including South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce, South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, Sea Turtle Inc, Friends of Animal Rescue, U.S. Border Patrol, El Paseo Arts Foundation, and most all area events from walks, runs, fishing tournaments, Laguna Madre Education Foundation Scholarships, hospital fundraisers, and the list goes on. Without hesitation, Patel offers financial support, venues, support services and his personal time and energy for the benefit of our community.
Patel currently serves as Chairman on the Cameron County Beach & Dune Protection Committee and is an active member of the Asian American Hotel Owner’s Association. His past service on South Padre Island includes Convention and Visitors Authority; Shoreline Taskforce; Chamber of Commerce; City Council; and Mayor of South Padre Island. For Cameron County he has served on the Appraisal Review Board, and on the Appraisal District Board of Directors.
Patel has been recognized by the RGV Hispanic Chamber; Indian Association of the RGV; Gujarati Samaj RGV; South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce as a Community Partner; and by the RGV Partnership.
Patel’s family includes five brothers and one sister, all in Texas. Together they have 11 children and six grandchildren. Mr. Patel is the uncle of JLSA, Rupal Dolly (Ria) Patel.
Why have you decided to serve as a Trailblazer for the JLSA?
When my niece, Rupal, came to me with this opportunity, I was happy to help because, I would say that 99 percent of the people who work for us are from South Texas. They grew up here, went to school here. They come to us with raw talent. We mold them through training and have not been disappointed. We cannot do anything or grow in any way without the people of the South Texas. But we must make sure that we are supporting their needs, the needs of their children and beyond. Philanthropy is only as good as the needs it serves.
People are finally beginning to understand the importance of not stigmatizing mental health. Now is the time to invest in it, spread awareness, and do our best as a community to put forth our best efforts in doing so. Mental health affects every demographic and age group, and it is something we cannot push under the rug anymore. We must tackle these issues firsthand, and seeing my niece, Rupal, go through many therapies, with Ati, made our family realize how important mental health is to raise a “whole child”. We should strive to help places like Clarity Child Guidance Center succeed because they are assisting us in bettering our future - our children.