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In Danvers, tribute for Sen. Berry raises $70,000 for North Shore food pantries

Posted by Kathy McCabe  September 14, 2012 03:03 AM

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Beverly Mayor Bill Scanlon, and his wife, Louise, with Senate Majority Leader Fred Berry, and his wife, Gayle, at Thursday's reception honoring Berry. He will retire in January after serving 30 years in the state Senate.

DANVERS - Governor Deval Patrick called him a "legend in Massachusetts politics."

Vice President Joe Biden sent a letter, lauding his work on behalf of nonprofits, particularly those serving children on the North Shore.

And Salem State University President Patricia Meservey announced the school's new $81 million library, still under construction, will bear his name.

Senate Democratic Majority Leader Fred Berry of Peabody, who will retire in January after 30 years in the state senate, was saluted Thursday night before a crowd of 600 at Danversport Yacht Club.

"I've had a magical run," Berry, 62, said to a cheering crowd. "Thank You."

The two-hour tribute was a fund-raiser for The Fred Berry Charitable Foundation, a nonprofit established by Berry after he was elected to represent the Second Essex District in 1982.

The event raised an estimated $70,000 for food pantries in Beverly, Danvers, Peabody, Salem and Topsfield, which comprise his district. Berry runs the foundation with his wife, Gayle.

A tribute video featuring state and local leaders praised Berry's work on behalf of public education, affordable housing, and human services, particularly those serving the disabled.

Berry was born with cerebral palsy, a condition that impairs his speech and mobility. He uses a wheelchair. Berry's foundation has raised $1 million for homeless shelters, food pantries, educational programs and other human services.

At Thursday's tribute, Nelson Benton, retired editorial page editor of the Salem News, interviewed Berry about his political career that began as a Peabody City Councilor, and will end as the second most powerful member of the State Senate.

Meservey noted Berry's key role in helping Salem State acquire a former light bulb factory -- enabling the campus to double its size.

"Understanding that students attending public institutions need the same qualities of facilities that private universities enjoy, you advocated for the resources to renovate our central campus and to build our beautiful library," she said.

Salem State's board of trustees and the state Board of Higher Education approved naming of the library for Berry, currently the senate's longest serving member.

In a letter of congratulations, Biden cited Berry's fortitude.

"Despite personal obstacles, Senator Berry's determination and fervent passion has made him a powerful voice for so many in Massachusetts . . . I know that your work is far from finished. Jill and I wish you and Gayle the best in the years ahead," stated the letter,which was read by Benton.

On Beacon Hill, Berry was admired as much for his personal courage as for his political instincts.

"Nobody has been a better role model for people with different abilities than Fred," remarked Senate President Therese Murray on the video." In all of the personal issues he has faced, he's faced them head on, and he's still been able to come to work. He's still a trusted advisor, and he is a good friend."

Murray was among present and former state leaders in attendance, including Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, former Senate President Robert Travaglini, former State Treasurer Shannon O'Brien.

Gov. Patrick escorted Berry and his wife into the chandalier-lit ballroom.

"This is a man of great wisdom, a man of great compassion, a man of great thoughtfulness who has been an extraordinarily effective leader in this community, and for his district and for the Commonwealth for a long time," Patrick said, introducing Berry. "Fred is one of those unusual senators, a leader who thought about the whole of the Commonwealth."

Local officials hailed Berry's help with securing state funding to fight crime and domestic violence; to build a new regional vocational high school in Middleton, a new court house in Salem, and a new garage at the MBTA commuter rail station in Beverly.

"So many things have happened in and around the region, and in Beverly, that would not have happened without Fred," said Beverly Mayor William Scanlon.

"He's willing to go to bat for you," Danvers Town Manager Wayne Marquis. "He's never too busy to take a call. He takes the time to ask what he can do to help, and then he gets things done. We'll miss Senator Berry at the State House, but we'll also miss the friend at the other end of the phone line."

Kathy McCabe can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe

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