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To his father's dismay, Barry had little interest in scholarship. He spent just one year at Phoenix's Union High School, got appalling report cardsand was elected class president. "They told us," said his mother, "that Barry should become a priest, because the only thing he was any good at was Latin." Finally, the Goldwaters sent him to Virginia's strait-laced Staunton Military Academy. During Barry's first year, academy officials repeatedly asked Baron Goldwater to take back his undisciplined heir. But four years later, when Barry earned his diploma, he was captain of the football team, and he wore on his uniform the medal given to the school's outstanding cadet.
Goldwater's classroom education virtually ended at Staunton. He put in a year at the University of Arizona, most of it spent behind the wheel of a Chrysler convertible. In February 1929 his father died; Barry finished the semester and returned home to work in the store. Leaving college, he now admits, was "the worst decision I ever made in my life."
Antsy Pants. Starting in with the title of vice president. Barry put in token time behind the yard-goods counter, but soon moved up to the executive suite. He developed a real flair for merchandising. At Barry's instigation, Goldwater's gradually blossomed from a middle-class department store to an Arizona equivalent of Dallas' sleek Neiman-Marcus. Appealing to the Phoenicians' provincialism, he marked goods with cattle brands, the heraldry of the frontier. He bottled and sold a successful brand of cologne (named, naturally. Gold Water), and dreamed up "antsy pants"men's shorts covered with a design of red ants. To Barry's delight, the underwear became a national fad.
Goldwater store salaries wereand are just average by Phoenix standards; but Barry, now an inactive, $12,000-a-year board chairman, is still fondly remembered by old employees for his introduction of pensions and profit sharing, and for off-the-cuff kindnesses. Once the son of an employee told Goldwater that he might lose his paper route because his bicycle had been stolen; Barry had a new bike delivered to the boy that day. He also harassed employees with the Goldwater brand of practical jokes, such as shipping live mice through the pneumatic tube system to the secretarial pool.
Barry Goldwater worked hard enough for the family business, but the store's demands still left him plenty of opportunity to become something of a man about Arizona. He played semipro basketball until knee injuries forced him to the sidelines and gave him a slight but permanent limp in his left leg. After learning to fly, he began touring the state on weekends and summer holidays to bone up on Indian folklore. From those trips came a collection of kachina dolls (images of the Hopi gods), his skill as a rain dancer, and his Great White Father reputation with countless tribesmen (many have named sons after him).