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Robert Lawrence Berry, III

Died: March 1, 1972

Robert Berry was born in Illinois and prepared for Yale at the Choate School. He was an American studies major, active in Morse affairs. He was a member of DKE, Berzelius Society, Haunt Club and Dwight Hall. He then went to the Peace Corps in Chile. It was during that tour in Chile that Bob contracted something, which ultimately revealed itself to be ALS, and that disease took his life in 1972. Married, with a young son, he left Gretchen a widow far too soon. Bob was gregarious to and with all, sat with any and all members of the class in the Morse dining hall, and was always interested in (and able to draw people out on) whatever the subject happened to be. Bob leaves a son, Eric.

Robert Riordan remembers:
Bob Berry was my roommate for four years and a great friend. He was one of those special people who radiated warmth, concern, and interest in others; and he was a true friend to many. He was not a simple person and struggled with his own demons through those challenging and often painful undergraduate years (as many of us did) in trying to come to grips with what his life’s contribution was to be.

Whatever his motivation, his contribution proved to be the ultimate and can now be appreciated given his concern for others. Yet at the time, his death in 1972 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which developed during Peace Corps service in Chile, seemed to be a tragic metaphor for our class’s entire Vietnam era experience. Bob chose a different route than the military for personal reasons but tried to serve his country and wound up leaving a legacy of a devoted wife and family, including a son, and his many friends. Bob did not die in Vietnam but the war forced decisions that left all of us speculating about what might have been.

What people should know about Bob is that he accepted his fate with grace and dignity; and, in his dying days, displayed a remarkable interest in and concern for others just as he had done so often before in his life. His refusal to dwell in self-pity was an invaluable lesson for all of us who were fortunate enough to spend time with him in those days. Bob turned what seemed to be the tragic waste of a life filled with promise into a positive statement about how to live your life to the fullest extent possible and then how to die.

Stephen Lindsay remembers:
For my first two years at Yale, Bob was my closest friend. But I was by no means his. He was closest to Bob Riordan, of course, and from our first day on the Old Campus it seemed everyone was his friend. He was larger than life, ruggedly handsome, always smiling, athletic. So what could he and I possibly have in common?

Originally? Bluegrass music. Bob played Dylan and Flatt and Scruggs records constantly. Several times a year we’d drive up to Cambridge in Bob’s (illicit) red ’57 Chevy convertible and head straight for Club 47 Mt. Auburn, a basement folk music club eponymous with its address. We’d listen to Geoff and Maria Muldaur and Jim Kweskin and his Jug Band (who, like Bob, summered on Martha’s Vineyard). We’d stay with friends of Bob’s at Harvard.

Bob had friends everywhere. Two of the more memorable, who each came to Yale several times, were a fellow named Dwight Brainerd, the only person I ever knew who actually drove a Citroen 2CV, and a classmate of Bob’s from Choate who even then cut a pretty wide swath, Michael Douglas.

We’d also take road trips to New York City, usually to see Bob’s stunning then girlfriend. She’d fix me up. New York, like Boston, was alien territory to me. But Bob moved everywhere with great style and ease. I tried, with mixed results, to follow his lead.

One of our road trips was to Princeton. Bob, with another young lovely, and I, with Linda Gray, my now wife of 48 years, squeezed into two seats for a concert (Bob Dylan).

Bob became somewhat distant as our undergraduate days waned. He was under the spell of yet another siren, Gretchen Schoof, whom he eventually married. After Yale, Linda and I visited them once in Philadelphia, when Bob was in design school at Penn and I was in the Army. We didn’t see them again until I was in law school and we went to DC during the March on Washington. He was dying.

Gretchen never recovered from losing Bob. A combination of physical, emotional, and mental afflictions literally put her into a death spiral. Her single-minded focus was their son, Eric, whom she eventually brought to meet me. He and I hit it off right away. Although she thought she was protecting him, really he was taking care of her, which he did lovingly until she passed away at 54. I saw her buried, next to Bob on Martha’s Vineyard.

Eric is a remarkable success story. I saw him graduate first in his class in psychology from UMass Boston, where he now works. I’ve also seen him perform with a small rock band. He plays a mean guitar. Not a bad cook, either.

Bob Riordan came to Boston shortly after Eric’s graduation just to meet him. Both came to our house for dinner. It’s a toss-up who was more impressed with the other.

Before retiring to Maine I occasionally had dinner with Eric. Once, at his suggestion, we went to a concert on his campus, where afterwards I introduced him to the star of the show — Geoff Muldaur. Geoff seemed shocked to learn Bob had a son. He said he couldn’t wait to tell Dwight Brainerd.