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Biography
Bernard "Barney" Li
August 02, 1946 - May 03, 2008




Full Name: Bernard "Barney" Li
Date of Birth: August 02, 1946
Date of Death: May 03, 2008
Country of Birth: China
Place of Birth: Tientsin
Place of Death: Springerville, Arizona
Biography:

Barney was born in Tientsin, China and emigrated with his mother, Helen, to the United States when Bernard was 6 months old in 1947. His birth father remained in China and Helen subsequently remarried Carl Li whom Bernard considered his father in every important sense of the word.

 

He attended Walter Johnson High School in Kensington, MD where he displayed his entrepreneurial bent with his first business--selling fireworks smuggled across the Virginia/Maryland border by the Li family housekeeper. She bought them in Virginia and brought them across the Maryland border for 25 percent of the profit, a percentage he always considered to be too rich since it was his capital at risk.

 

He attended and hated Cornell University (“too dreary, too shabby and too cold, and that’s just the women!”) and later the University of Maryland. He graduated from the University of Maryland in 1968.

 

Bernard moved to Santa Monica, CA in 1968, believing firmly (which is pretty much the ONLY way Barney believed anything) “if you can succeed anywhere, you can succeed in Southern California.” He worked in various positions for the City of Carson, California while he considered various entrepreneurial opportunities. He finally decided to start a motorcycle dealership (he had been an avid motorcyclist since high school) and with a small group of investors he started Wheels Of Fortune Yamaha in 1974.

 

Bernard constructed a purpose-built structure for the new shop next to the Del Amo mall in Carson, bordered on one side by a concrete storm ditch that led eventually to the ocean. Anyone familiar with the site would be amazed to learn this placed the site within the purview of the California Coastal Commission who delayed construction for almost a year. Anyone familiar with Barney understands he did prevail, but the battle exhausted reserve funds. The shop closed in 1976. The sale of the building enabled Barney to repay his investors, and leave the field bloody but unbowed.

 

Bernard married Elizabeth Nauta in 1975. Those of us who knew Barney then understand he approached winning Elizabeth with all the vision, persistence, and nerve that he brought to any critical undertaking. Grubby motorcyclists were over represented in the otherwise-refined wedding party and the trip to the reception was accompanied by wheelie-ing hoodlums.

 

In 1978 Barney Started Eagle One Industries in Irvine with savings and credit of approximately $5,000. As the company grew, his fundamental belief in what he was doing showed in every detail. Barney hated to see a dirty car, and his definition of dirty was substantially more stringent than yours or mine. His innovative product, packaging, advertising, and his fundamental love of doing business well, with courage and integrity, led the company to great success. Bernard sold Eagle One Industries in 1998 to Ashland Inc. after twenty years of growth and success.

 

In 1996 Bernard had acquired intellectual property rights to Vincent Motorcycles with a vision of building a motorcycle that an experienced motorcyclist would appreciate. He worked with Roush Industries to design and build four prototype motorcycles, and arranged an extraordinary deal with Honda to supply their superb RC51 engine for the bikes.

 

The highly publicized failures of companies like Indian aiming to “re-create” famous motorcycle brands did damage to the nascent company. As is typical for Barney, his plans were well conceived and very conservative, but the project had to be put in hibernation to await a more receptive environment. At the time of his death Barney was still working hard to move the project forward.

 

For all this biography speaks of business, Bernard was first and foremost a husband and father who always placed providing for and protecting his family far ahead of any other consideration. He had high expectations and high standards for his three children: Justin Bernard (28), Kristen Nicolle (25), Darren Elliott (20). Along with his wonderful wife Elizabeth, they were the pride and joy of his life. He raised his family with high values and honor at the core of everything they do.  And he never missed one of his kid’s sports games, ever.

 

In 2003 he moved his family to a house that would to allow his parents to move in with the family and have sufficient room for full-time care.  He refused to put them in a home.  The move was stressful on the family, but he made it happen because he believed that not only was he responsible for his parents well-being, but his children were too.

 

He was passionate about his pursuits in business, design, family values, intellectual pursuits, and his patriotism. He was generous with his time, and devoted to his friends.  We will all miss him.

 

 

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