Gary Berry was a colorful North Little Rock blue-collar political character who was bigger than life both literally and figuratively. He served eight years on the City Council but made his mark coaching Little League baseball at Burns Park for more than two decades.
The man whom friends said was all heart died Monday, Oct. 15 of heart failure.
His son Chris said his Dad had been on disability from his work at the North Little Rock Maybelline plant for some time because of his heart problems and his heart just stopped Monday.
Chris said he wanted everyone to know that his Dad was a good man who loved everybody, especially his wife and two sons.
Anyone who knew the elder Berry knew from the instant they met him where he stood on issues of politics and about them. He wasn’t shy about expressing opinions and even when he uttered the rare criticism he did so with that smile that seemed to wipe away any bad intentions.
Friends said Berry was all about making other people happy. But he had a serious side as well. During his council time, Berry wasn’t shy about speaking out on issues important to him.
Having grown up in North Little Rock after his family moved here from Jonesboro, Berry played linebacker on the Ole Main Class of 1975, one of the first after the high school split with the opening of the new Northeast High School.
He was ferocious on the football field, a former classmate said but off the field he was "just a big ole’ Teddy Bear."
Berry coached baseball at Burns Park during the 1980s and 1990s — the heyday of a program that has fallen on hard times.
He was at the ballpark almost every day back then, helping fix up and clean up the field when he wasn’t coaching or working a game.
Berry encouraged his players to do their best without the critical negative remarks some call coaching.
He even coached his own children.
His son Chris, around 10 at the time was just maturing and his Dad nicknamed him "Fluffy."
Like most of his baseball players, Berry coached them verbally encouraging and instructing them in the art of the game and just beamed as he saw them grow and become much better players.
Chris said the team he played on wasn’t expected to play much ball that year but went on to win the championship.
But Berry was teaching much more than baseball to those young men. Many have gone on to exceed expectations of them in life as well, Chris said.
In fact, he said his Dad especially enjoyed running into a former ball player he coached who had become a physician, teacher or a businessman succeeding in life like they did that summer on the ball fields of Burns Park.
Teaching life lessons was important to Berry but the biggest lesson he ever taught was to deal with the day’s challenges with a smile on your face, his son said.
Berry’s niece’s all lamented his passing. Emily Guess said, "We miss our Gary Berry so much. I miss my uncle. My heart hurts so much."
Another niece, Laura Krueger Somers said, "A Big Ole Teddy Bear!! He was a wonderful uncle and there aren’t any words to describe how much he was loved."
County assessor Janet Troutman Ward said Berry was a good friend who would be missed. She also added, "You were a sweet kind spirit."
Debbie Alexander spoke of his passing too young and his way of "making all others happy with that smile he never seemed to lose."
Berry was a blue collar politician whom everyone loved even when he stumbled in his public service career but he was proud of his service like he was his coaching and watching those young men grow up and become parents themselves.
But of all of Berry’s endeavors, you couldn’t be around him five minutes without him speaking of them. He loved his two sons and was so proud of how they matured into young men. And his constant smile got even brighter as he spoke glowingly about them — proudly telling everyone what they were doing.