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Robert Worth Berry in uniform

Brig. Gen. Robert Worth Berry (Ret.)

From wheat fields to West Point

Alum celebrated for lifetime of achievements

By Gail Siegel, College of Liberal Arts

When alumnus Robert Worth Berry (B.A. '50, political science) turned 85 this year, a birthday party thrown by friends, family, and colleagues wasn't the only surprise planned.

Doug Epperson, dean of the WSU College of Liberal Arts, joined the March 19 celebration to present Berry with the college's 2011 Distinguished Alumni Award, and Berry's WSU classmate and longtime friend Bill Fitch (B.A. '50, English) presented him with WSU's Alumni Achievement Award.

Robert Berry presented with two separate alumni awards
Left: Bill Fitch presents Robert Berry with WSU's Alumni Achievement Award at Berry's surprise party in March. Right: Dean Epperson (right) presents Berry with CLA's Distinguished Alumni Award.

A distinguished career

Berry, a retired brigadier general, has a portfolio of accomplishments from his service in the U.S. Army and as a civilian that is impressive by any standard.

From drafting, during the Eisenhower administration, the only legislation to reorganize the entire Department of Defense to serving as a professor and head of the Department of Law at the United States Military Academy at West Point, the Harvard Law School graduate's career as an attorney has been long, distinguished, and diverse.

Today Berry is still active as a corporate attorney for G.A. Wright Inc. in Denver, where he was named one of the city's top corporate lawyers in the November 2010 issue of Denver Magazine.

Gary Wright was a cadet when Berry taught at West Point. The former army captain and commander of an infantry company founded G.A. Wright in 1981 and later recruited Berry out of retirement to work as the advertising company's legal counsel.

When many of his contemporaries are focusing their energies on golf and gardening, it's not hard for Berry to pinpoint what keeps him practicing law.

"There are a lot of people involved, and I like people," Berry said. "I like people very much!"

Early inspiration

From his earliest years, teachers played an important role in Berry's life.

In 1932, Miss Alexander, Berry's first-grade teacher in Kelso, Washington, taught the 45 boys and girls in her classroom more than reading and writing, he said.

"She taught us discipline, and I think that the biggest influence outside my home was the Kelso public schools," said Berry. "They also taught us hope. If you studied and did your work, there would be hope that things would be much better for you. I give great credit to those teachers, most of whom I still remember by name."

In 1944, much to his delight and the consternation of his mother and sisters, Berry was drafted into the army, and when World War II ended he enrolled at Washington State College.

A family of Cougars

Washington State was a family affair. Berry's mother, Anita Worth Berry, had graduated from WSC in 1916 with degrees in economics and history.

"My mother was intensely proud of Washington State," said Berry.

His oldest sister, Mary Lou Berry, had graduated from WSC in 1942 with a degree in political science.

Berry's other sister, Anita Jacqueline "Jackie" Beall, had attended Eastern Oregon College of Education, but didn't like teaching. She decided to go back to school at WSC and earned a degree in police science in 1948. Afterward, she joined the Berkeley (California) Police Department as an assistant policewoman, as female officers were called then.

Their mother returned to successive summer schools and received her master's degree in home economics in 1949. Berry attended summer school in 1944 at the same time his mother was enrolled.

Photo: Robert Worth Berry from the 1950 Chinook yearbook

From the 1950 Chinook yearbook: "Big Chief Robert Berry was Evergreen editor, member of Crimson Circle and Scabbard and Blade."

Lessons learned at Washington State

At WSC Berry took full advantage of campus life. An excellent student, he worked as a reporter and editor for the Daily Evergreen, belonged to the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and the Crimson Circle (a group of student leaders), and was elected to Scabbard and Blade, the honorary society for ROTC members.

In those days, WSC recognized 10 seniors as the "Big Five Men" and "Big Five Women" (a tradition continued at WSU today with the "Big 10 Seniors"). In 1950, not only was Berry selected for this honor, he was named "Big Chief" of the Big Five Men.

"We were called to the stage and we were standing there," said Berry, recalling that day. "They announced the Big Chief, and I had turned to congratulate the student body president, who I thought would be chosen. But he wasn't, I was, and I never asked why; I was kind of embarrassed. I thought it was a very high honor."

Berry was befriended by then WSC president Wilson Compton, and dean of students Bill Craig became his mentor and friend. Berry credits his work with top administrators at WSC as one reason for his success in the military.

"I had been used to dealing with the dean and with Dr. Compton and Vice President Hopkins and Mr. Sandberg [executive assistant to the president], and I was not intimidated by them and I was not intimidated by the senior officers in the [military] division," Berry said. "I got over that at WSU."

From student to mentor

Berry's advice for WSU students today is what he used to tell his cadets at West Point: "Keep your focus on your goal."

"I would draw them a chart that was drawn for me when I was in Lambda Chi," said Berry. It was a chart to list talents and goals, both short-term and distant.

"As you move forward you can determine whether or not you are achieving your goals," he would tell cadets. "Monitor yourself so you know where you're going."

Berry also kept a close watch on his cadets.

"At the birthday party, I was given a book that one of the wives had put together on the '85 football team," said Berry, who had been the officer representative (OR) to that army football team under coach Jim Young.

In the memory book was a letter that one of the football players had written to his classmates about Berry's birthday.

The former cadet athlete wrote, "(Berry's) home proved to be the perfect safe haven for many who had a particularly challenging day, those who longed for the comfort of their own homes far away or for those who may have needed an objective ear—not to mention a compassionate heart—when dealing with the daily trials of cadet life."

Sympathetic though he was, Berry also held his students to high standards. The letter went on to tell how Berry once stopped the cadet at the end of practice to ask about his grades, which Berry was aware were not up to par.

"(Berry) told me in no uncertain terms that my [academic] performance was horrible and it was time for someone to intervene," at which point Berry sent him to see the academic OR. The West Point alum credits both officers with playing a pivotal role in his life.

"I oft times reflect on the intervention by two incredibly important and caring leaders," his letter concluded. "Had it not been for their attention, concern, and commitment, I am sure that my life would have taken a far different path. Thankfully they did intervene, and I don't have to wonder, 'What if?'"

Robert Berry with birthday celebration guests, including members of West Point's class of '69
Robert Berry (seated in front) with birthday celebration guests, including members of the United States Military Academy class of 1969

Great teachers really care

Berry is clear on what he thinks is the responsibility of teachers and mentors, to provide caring guidance.

"Kids understand who is concerned," said Berry. "The most beloved professors are the ones that we knew were after us to learn because of the nature of the course and where it fitted in to our lives."

In addition to Compton and Craig, Berry named Claudius O. Johnson, Miss Ridgway (political science), Dr. Deutsch (history), and Maynard Hicks (journalism) as among his most beloved Washington State professors.

"The caring action and attitude at Washington State have been a guide to me in many ways," Berry said.

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About Robert Worth Berry

After earning his B.A. in political science with honors from Washington State College, Berry went on to earn an M.A. in criminal justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice (New York) and a J.D. from Harvard University.

Berry served in the army on active duty during World War II and as public information officer for the 40th Infantry Division in Korea, and as a reservist in the Department of Defense and at West Point, where he was selected as professor and head of the Department of Law in 1978. He retired from the army as brigadier general in 1987.

In his civilian career, Berry worked as a research associate for the Defense Policy Seminar at Harvard's School of Public Administration; at the Pentagon as an attorney in the Office of the Secretary of Defense; and was appointed by President Nixon as general counsel for the Department of the Army, where as senior civilian lawyer he offered advice and counsel to two secretaries of the army, Bob Froehlke and Bo Callaway, and to Generals Westmoreland, Palmer, Abrams, and Weyand. Berry also worked as a corporate attorney for Philco/Philco-Ford in Philadelphia, for Litton Industries in Beverly Hills and Washington, D.C., and for G.A. Wright Inc. in Denver, and as resident partner at Quarles & Brady, Attorneys at Law, in Washington, D.C.

In a June letter, U.S. senator and former West Point cadet Jack Reed told Berry, "Your hallmarks have always been frank and honest opinions, pursuit of excellence, and caring for the many people of all ranks who you have helped along the way. As a result, our Army today and our national security are better because of your influence and service."

For that service, Berry has been awarded numerous decorations, including the army's Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, two Distinguished Civilian Service Medals, and an Outstanding Civilian Service Medal. The one that means the most to Berry, though, is the Good Conduct Medal he received as an enlisted man.

"Being in the army meant something to me," he said. "It meant that I was like everybody else. I think at heart I am an enlisted man. I am proudest of that job."


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