Jeff Berry was one of the great storytellers. He had about two dozen stories in heavy rotation: about growing up in New Hampshire in the 1950s, about his adventures as a radical activist and folk musician in the 60s and 70s, about carpentry and the odd jobs that kept him afloat during those years. He shared his love of stories as an English professor at Adrian College, and his students became part of his story. He remembered students’ names from 20 years ago, remembered what they wrote and what they had to say in class, and took pride in recounting their later successes. He retold the best parts of the novels he loved teaching; the plots of true-crime TV shows he watched; and the dramatic and idiosyncratic exploits of his life-long favorite sports teams, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Football Giants. He told embarrassing stories about his son, Natty, and his daughter, Lydia—mostly about cute things they’d done as little kids. He told stories about his wife of 37 years, Cindy, about the times she’d made him laugh.
Jeff was such a good storyteller that you didn’t really mind that you’d heard all his stories before. He would half-apologize for repeating a story before repeating one anyway, and you’d listen, because he was charismatic, captivating. You’d listen because you could tell that all his stories—the teasing ones, the silly ones, the sincere ones—barely concealed a huge and simple love of people. Jeff died on October 6 at 71, after a long illness. He is at peace now, and has become what he loved best: a story.
Instead of sending flowers, please bend the ear of a diner waitress for a little too long and then leave a good tip—or give a little money to the Wentworth Watershed Association in New Hampshire.
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