BOSTON — After 30 years, retiring Sen. Fred Berry of Peabody made an emotional farewell to his colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate last night.
Cerebral palsy makes Berry’s speech difficult to follow and has led to painful, chronic medical problems — yet, as Senate President Therese Murray pointed out, these things did not blunt his wit, his humor or his abilities. Nor did they stop him from rising to the rank of Senate majority leader.
“Nobody believed that someone with my speech impediment could make it in politics,” Berry said. Nevertheless, he rose from the Peabody City Council to the Senate in 1983 and was never seriously challenged after that.
“I wanted to bring change,” he said. “I wanted to make the world a better place. ... For me, every day, you have to feel like you’re doing something right.”
Touching on what motivates him, Berry harkened back to his youth working as a volunteer for VISTA in Corpus Christi, Texas. “I learned a lot in those three years. ... I got a lot more from them than they ever got from me.”
“Freddy was a force for those underserved and overlooked,” said East Boston Sen. Anthony Petruccelli, who spoke prior to Berry last night. He characterized his friend as “a miracle ... when you think about the physical and medical challenges he had to deal with.”
He noted Berry’s even temper, saying, “I’ve never seen Freddy get angry. ... Freddy never complained.”
He then looked over at Berry and declared, “I will miss you dearly.”
Murray next ticked off the contributions Berry made to his district, from flood control for Peabody to the courthouse construction in Salem.
She lauded Berry’s drive to change laws and perceptions that handicap people’s progress. For one, she cited his work in changing the name of the Department of Mental Retardation to the Department of Developmental Services.