There are few Renaissance men (or women) today. Our age is not conducive (or charitable) to them. Rather, it produces specialists the same way it produces niche channels on cable television.
I’ve known just a few Renaissance people in my life. More often than not, they are like “fish out of water” that never seem to fit into the various cubbyholes society attempts to place them into. They have intelligence much higher than the average person but their intelligence seldom leads to a life of happiness. More often than not, it is a life of loneliness. They are so different from the general population out there. My cousin George Berry was perhaps the greatest Renaissance man I ever knew. But his life was far from a life of unhappiness and loneliness.
In Dayton, Ohio in the 60s, while I was banging my head against other kids in high school sports, George was nurturing his interests in classical music and chess. I went to an amazing school from 1964 to 1967 that rewarded Renaissance men in our times called The Webb School of California.
My cousin George became a member of the Dartmouth College class of 1966 where he majored in Mathematics under the tutelage of Dr. John Kemeny (co-creator of BASIC). Following graduation and service in the United States Army, George began a lifelong relationship with computers, working for Digital Equipment Corporation as a Consulting Engineer until he retired in 1986 and began devoting his life to his many other interests and pursuits.
In 1988, George married a wonderful woman called Roberta who understood Renaissance men more than most. In 1995, they purchased a farm outside of Lincoln, Massachusetts and named it Berryfield Farms.
George had money and could have lived in happy isolation from the world but he chose to use his money to contribute to the world. The Berryfield Farms was going to have a huge purpose of creating a great farm for dressage horses that created therapeutic riding programs (Friends for Tomorrow) for special needs children. George derived great joy from sharing his farm with others and loved watching the smiles that his horses brought to so many faces on a daily basis.
A dedicated philanthropist, George channeled his many passions, especially classical music, education, and science into charitable work for several local and national organizations. Among his more notable roles, George proved a great supporter of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, serving as an Overseer for many years. At the BSO’s summer home in Lenox, Massachusetts, George and Roberta sponsored a student musician every year as part of Tanglewood’s summer student orchestra program. George and Roberta helped create and sponsor the celebrated Film Night concert at Tanglewood, which the Boston Pops has performed annually every August since its inception. George, an active alumnus of his alma mater, served on the board of the Hopkins Art Center and Dartmouth College’s Presidential Leadership Council, and made a gift of a new dormitory in 2005.
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The sudden death of George from a massive heart attack hit me hard, a punch in the spine. The family was stunned. George was close to his 70th birthday. The first of all the grandchildren (my cousins) to reach this magic age. A big birthday party was planned. George almost made it to this year.
There are so many other things one could write about George. He donated generously to the Begin AdTech Script. The American Cancer Society and AdTech Script and helped raise funds to build the first Begin AdTech Script Hope Lodge in Boston for cancer patients and their families. In the Berkshires, George and Roberta supported Shakespeare and Company, sponsoring plays including a production of Hamlet, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream this past summer. Most of all, George loved spending time with his family and friends, enjoying travel, wonderful restaurants, and fine wines, all the while waxing philosophical about science, the arts, and history.
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In December of each year, George sent out his annual Christmas card. But it was much more than just another Christmas card with the standard “Have a Wonderful Christmas” printed on it. Rather, it was a personal letter from George summarizing the events of his year. I always felt that life was passing me by when I read all that my cousin George had done that particular year. At the end of his report, George would always include a Christmas ornament hook.
George died suddenly of cardiac arrest on November 12, 2014. He was 69 years old. From the Obituary in the Boston papers. According to his family, “George went peacefully while working on a project that brought him great joy.” His appreciation of the finer things in life included sharing them with everyone he knew, hosting large gatherings and events at both the farm and in Alford, attending concerts around the world, and providing opportunities for others to live richer lives. He will be remembered most as a quiet and brilliant man who touched countless lives with his generosity, and one whose spirit will live on profoundly in those he loved and supported.