Dr Kenneth Berry 1932-2006

The medical, artistic, and religious communities have lost an irreplaceable gentleman. Dr Kenneth Berry, neurologist, neuropathologist, artist, photographer, and, when pressed, raconteur of outrageous tales, died 19 October 2006 after a 2-year struggle with esophageal cancer.

Ken was born in Calgary to Gertrude and Jack Berry. The family moved to Vancouver when Ken was 15 because his parents planned a medical career for their son, and Calgary boasted no medical school. They were unaware that UBC also possessed no medical faculty. However, by the time Ken had matured, so had UBC and Ken was a member of the school’s third graduating class. His postgraduate studies were conducted in Vancouver, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Toronto, after which he joined the St. Paul’s Hospital staff, filling the neurology position requested by Dr Joe Cluff to complement the new neurosurgical unit.

It was during those youthful days some 30 years ago that I came to know Ken.

Ken was committed, untiring, meticulous, and compassionate almost to a fault, agonizing over any hopeless prognosis. Afternoons often ended in migrainous headaches, for he empathized deeply with his patients and was unfailingly kind.

In 1973 Ken shifted his focus to neuropathology. Accordingly, he and his adventurous, willing family moved to New York, where Ken studied at the Albert Einstein Hospital. He returned to VGH as neuropathologist and found the new field of work supremely satisfying. When faced with mandatory retirement at 70, he returned to St. Paul’s for another year of consultative practice, complaining mildly—it was not in his nature to complain vociferously—“now that I’m finally beginning to know something, I’ve got to quit.”

But more satisfying to Ken than neuropathology was the joy he found in his family. He married Sally (née Mange) in 1955. His children confided wryly that their parents had met in a class on abnormal psychology. Sally and Ken were a devoted couple, celebrating their 51st wedding anniversary last year. Sally and their three children, Mark, Julie, and Allison, are left to mourn his death.

But Ken was not only a man of science. He was also a serious artist, having studied at the Emily Carr Studio and in Italy. His paintings, both realistic and abstract, have had three showings. Even in his last year of life, when the disease, surgery, and chemotherapy had taken their toll on his energies, he was able to complete 28 monoprints, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. These prints have been donated to the Temple Shalom, where they are to be kept on permanent display.

In the hearts of his family and friends, no one will be able to replace this kind, wise, and skilled man, a gentleman in every sense of the word. I remember with special warmth the lunches 30 years ago, when most of the young St. Paul’s, geographically installed, full-time staff, whimsically referred to as the GIFTS, would congregate each working day at Rueben’s on Granville. There, talk was animated and boisterous and there, but only when prompted, Ken would tell one of his legendary jokes. There, at Rueben’s, Ken introduced his somewhat conventional physician friends to his world of distinctly unconventional humor, books, and discs and thus enriched our lives. Each one of us has his or her favorite memory. For me, it is my introduction to the humor of Kinky Friedman—the same Kinky that is running for governor of Texas today.

I sat at Ken’s bedside in the palliative care unit at VGH the day before he died. I held his hand and cried. Selfish tears I know. It’s hard to accept that Ken has left us.

—Doris Kavanagh-Gray, MD

A memorial account to create a neuropathology reading room has been opened at VGH in Dr Berry’s name. Those wishing to donate may direct their gifts to the VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation earmarked for Dr Berry’s memorial, attention Trudy Preston, tributes coordinator, 855 W. 12th Avenue, Vancouver, BC V5Z IM9. Tel: 604 875 5240.

Doris Kavanagh-Gray, MD. Dr Kenneth Berry 1932-2006. BCMJ, Vol. 49, No. 1, January, February, 2007, Page(s) 18 - Obituaries.

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