By Alan Burke
---- — DANVERS — Gov. Deval Patrick told a packed Danversport Yacht Club last night that he’s learned something after working at the Statehouse. “You learn you better listen to Fred Berry.”
The retiring state Senate majority leader was honored as hundreds of friends cheered when his wheelchair was pushed onto the stage. Wife Gayle stood beside Berry, taking in the outpouring of affection.
“Wow,” Patrick said. “And every bit of it deserved.” Patrick made the formal introduction, citing Berry’s devotion to those less fortunate, the children, the disabled.
“They’re never out of sight or out of mind for Fred Berry,” Patrick said.
In more than 30 years, Berry, 62, made the climb from the Peabody City Council to the No. 2 job in the state Senate. All this happened despite debilitating cerebral palsy and the health concerns that come with it. Yet, Berry can point to taking a part in major accomplishments, like the construction of North Shore Community College in Danvers and helping bring the new courthouse complex to Salem and a dorm and library to Salem State University.
University President Patricia Meservey used the occasion to announce that the new library will bear Berry’s name.
Fred Berry Charities has funded $1 million in social and educational programs for children on the North Shore.
He’s been Sen. Berry since 1982, serving along with six governors and five U.S. senators, including three men who won their party’s nomination for president of the United States.
Interviewed by another retiree, former Salem News editorial page editor Nelson Benton — who came back from Arizona for the occasion — Berry displayed his legendary sense of humor with a tale about each of those presidential candidates
Dukakis, Berry told the crowd, was famous for taking public transit — even while governor. Once, crossing the Boston Common to get to the T, he was accosted by a woman of the evening who told him, “I’ll do anything you want for $60.” Dukakis considered the offer, then asked, “Will you paint my house?”
Berry often teased Sen. John Kerry’s JFK pretensions with the remark, “And he looks too young to have been on PT 109.” Eventually, Kerry complained, and Berry replied, “As long as they keep laughing, I’ll keep telling it.”
In the midst of a bitter battle between Senate President Therese Murray and then-Gov. Mitt Romney, the majority leader was called to the corner office. He emerged to report that the Romney was so furious he had a hair out of place.
The extent of Berry’s value to the district, including Peabody, Beverly, Danvers, Salem and Topsfield, was made clear last night by Patrick. At one point, the governor praised Berry’s legislative skills, saying, “That is why this district continues to receive,” he paused, “more than its fair share of resources and attention.”
Next came a video presentation, including a parade of mostly North Shore civic leaders lauding the senator and his contribution to the community.
“He has difficulty speaking,” said former Senate President Robert Travaglini in the video, “yet speaks volumes. He has difficulty moving. But can move mountains.”
“There are so many things that happened in this region that would not have happened without Fred,” observed Beverly Mayor Bill Scanlon.
“He just had a way,” said Brian Cranney, an advocate for Essex Aggie who watched Berry make real progress on the project.
“He’s there to help,” Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said. “He doesn’t want any credit. ... He actually just wants to help.”
North Shore Community College President Wayne Burton, again on video, got one of the loudest laughs of the night when he recalled seeing Berry campaigning in a snowy doughnut shop parking lot and stopped to introduce himself. “I’m Wayne Burton,” he said.
“Here’s the sign,” Berry replied. “Hold it.”
Benton also had a few stories, remembering when Berry objected to one of his articles by calling him as “one of America’s great fiction writers.”
When then U.S. Rep. Nick Mavroules, a man noted for his stylish wardrobe, was tardy for an event, Berry quipped, “They had to call out an electrician to fix his suit.”
Berry, whose Senate career ends in January, finished the night getting kisses from his step-granddaughter.