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December 7, 2012

Moving on to 'a new life and new challenges'

Peabody's Fred Berry says goodbye to Senate after 30 years

(Continued)

“Freddy, you have been an example for all of us,” Murray said.

In a measure of the esteem in which Berry is held, two former Senate presidents, Tom Birmingham and Robert Travaglini, returned for the event.

Berry’s ability to disarm people, despite his limitations, was evidenced when he related the suggestion from his wife, Gayle, a physical therapist, that she could improve his speech.

“Honey,” the senator puckishly recalled his reply, “I’ve won 10 elections in a row. You think I want them to know what I’m saying now.”

Using a written text merely to keep his place, Berry reacted to his colleagues. When Birmingham arrived midspeech (he’d been at a family funeral), the senator joshed, pointing to his text, “Too bad, Tom, you could have learned some new words.”

His respect for the circular Senate chamber, the walls powder blue and white, like a giant piece of Wedgwood china, never left him. He remembered his awe on being sworn in.

“You have to be overwhelmed, and you have to think what a great privilege it is for all of us to get elected and to serve here,” he said.

One by one, he thanked members of his staff, who stood nearby.

His warmest remarks were for wife Gayle and stepgranddaughter Jazmin. Later, the little girl would have fun with the president’s gavel.

“She just exists,” Berry told his colleagues. “That’s all she has to do. And I am tickled pink.”

Murray ended the session with a salute to Peabody Rep. Joyce Spiliotis, who died last week. “She will be deeply missed.”

She added, “The senator from Essex County ends an era here.”

For his future, Berry plans to devote his time to Work Inc., an organization dedicated to getting employment for disabled people.

“Thirty years have come and gone,” a reflective Berry told the Senate. “So many things have changed. ... I move on now to a new life and new challenges.”

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