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Paul Barry, founder and longtime artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, developed his love of theater inside an English literature classroom at Wayne State University.

“He started undergrad at the University of Michigan as an engineering student and found out that wasn’t really his cup of tea,” said his wife of 45 years, Ellen Reiss Barry.

He transfered to Wayne State, discovered a passion for Shakespeare and got involved in the university’s theater department.

“He got the lead to the first play he auditioned for,” Mrs. Barry said. “From there it just became a life in the theater.”

Mr. Barry’s own play came to a close Sept. 11 when he died of cancer at his home in Morristown, New Jersey. He was 83.

After graduating from Wayne State, Mr. Barry did graduate work at Stanford University in California before moving back east, where in 1963 he founded the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, now called the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. It is the state’s largest professional theater company dedicated to the works of Shakespeare.

Mr. Barry met his wife soon after the Shakespeare Festival was formed.

“He hired me sight unseen to be his assistant producer and to be an acting intern in the company,” Mrs. Barry said. “And that was it; from the day I met him in 1965 until Sept. 11 (of this year), he was always a part of my life.”

The couple remained involved in the theater, with Mr. Barry serving as artistic director for 27 years. He directed around 200 productions, including all 38 plays of Shakespeare’s canon.

“As far as we know, he was the first and only American to have directed them all,” Mrs. Barry said. “Almost nobody does that; some of them are pretty obscure.”

Outside of New Jersey, Mr. Barry’s work as a director was featured throughout the country, from California to Florida to The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C, according to his wife.

“It has been extraordinary to me ... the people who have worked with him over the years reaching out and saying how much of an influence he had on their lives,” she said. “It’s been so touching.”

Mr. Barry was born Aug. 29, 1931, in Highland Park. He attended grade school in Detroit before graduating from Detroit Catholic Central High School.

“He loved it,” said his sister, Maureen Flaherty of Troy. “He came home every five years for his class reunion.”

Mrs. Flaherty said she looked up to her brother, who was 13 years her senior.

“I went to Wayne State too, and I majored in English like he majored in English,” she said. “My foreign language was German because he took German.”

The siblings remained close even while living far apart, Flaherty said.

“He was always my rock, even though he wasn’t living here,” she said. “I could always talk to him. I could always confide in him.”

Mrs. Barry said she is thankful for the decades she shared with her husband, both on and off stage.

“He was charming, he was complicated, he was Irish to the core,” she said. “He made me laugh; he made me crazy. We were very lucky.”

Mr. Barry is survived by his wife, Ellen Reiss Barry; sister Maureen (Timothy) Flaherty and their son, Nicholas; son Kevin (Shelby) Barry and their daughters, Brynn and Grace; son Timothy (Mayu) Barry and their children, Kai and Mila; and daughter Shannon (Chris) O’Grady and their children, Riggins, Teagan and Cash.

Services were held Sept. 24 at St. Malachy’s, the Actor’s Chapel, followed by a memorial Monday at the Abingdon Theatre, both in New York City.

Memorials may be made to the Actors Fund of America.

hfournier@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4616

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