SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 18, 2013

Ipswich selectman still recovering, months after fall

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff writer

---- — IPSWICH — Selectman Shirley Berry likes to stay active.

When a resident asks for help, she wants to spring into action.

But Berry, 64, been sidelined since July 28 when she fell down a full flight of outdoor stairs at her son’s home in town. She was hospitalized for four days with a traumatic brain injury.

”I hit the back of my head and was knocked out, and then I hit the front side of my head,” Berry said. “I had a bunch of injuries, but it was nothing short of a miracle that I didn’t break any bones and I didn’t get paralyzed. I am lucky to be here. It was a significant fall.”

That prompted her to take a leave of absence from the Board of Selectmen until at least the beginning of the new year. The last meeting she attended was on July 15.

“I am so involved, and I have so much time and work invested in the town that I am anxious to get back,” she said. “This was a very difficult decision to make. I hope to be back at the first meeting in January.”

Charles Surpitski, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said he’s looking forward to her return.

“I think she is a very committed elected official,” he said. “She has a wonderful perspective on the townsfolk and perspective on the issues. We miss her insight and presence.”

Her absence was felt most forcefully in September when the board voted 2-2 on a proposal to ask residents to spend $100,000 for a feasibility study to look into building a combined police and fire station on Elm Street, a major issue in town. Without a majority in support of it, the proposal was rejected.

”I would have been the deciding vote,” Berry said.

This is an important issue for her. During her first run for the board, she said the town needed to “bite the bullet” and do something about public safety facilities. But, she said, the proposal will go forward at the right time.

Berry was elected in May 2010 and re-elected when she ran unopposed in 2013. She moved to town when she and her husband, Dan, married in 1968. They have five grown children.

She was in the hospital for heart surgery the day she was elected in 2010. There have been no problems since the surgery, she said.

Berry said she has made significant process with her recovery, going to physical therapy twice a week and the neurologist every few weeks, but she still suffers from debilitating headaches.

”My first full headache-free day was Tuesday,” she said.

She remains sensitive to light and noise and has to wear sunglasses and use a cane wherever she goes. It is difficult to be out and about, especially at places like the supermarket, she said.

“It creates too much stimulation to the brain. I can’t go to restaurants or the meetings,” she said.

Berry said she has kept up with town business during her leave, although she admits she’s been told not to. She checks her emails and keeps up with key issues.

The board has been very supportive, she said, with Surpitski checking in weekly. “He won’t let me talk about town business,” she added.

She is currently able to work part time in elder services but still has many limitations, she said.

”I really can’t be involved like I used to,” she said. “If someone asks me to do something, I can’t get involved. It is very frustrating.”

Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at jphelps@salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.