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Obituaries



William (Bill) L. Berry, Jr.  (Staff)
  (1932-2010)

William L Berry, Jr., an attorney whose career spanned the public and corporate worlds and who, upon retirement, enjoyed a long second career working to protect California's rivers, died September 30, 2010.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, which was diagnosed in the spring of 2009.

Born in Los Angeles, California, in 1932, Mr. Berry, know to family and friends as Bill, moved to Sacramento as a high school student.  He attended San Juan High School.  His father, William L. Berry, worked for the State Division of Water Resources and was one of the principal architects of the California Water Plan.  His father's role in the Plan--which resulted in the damming of many important rivers--and seemingly contradictory love for flyfishing on unspoiled streams would become grist for the younger Mr. Berry in later years.

Bill attended Stanford University.  during college, he worked summers as an assistant brakeman on Southern Pacific trains hauling Sacramento produce to eastern and northern markets.  he considered himself fortunate to work on the last generation of steam engines, and the experience gave him a lifelong love of trains, especially the sound of engines climbing the steep grades of the Upper Sacramento river Canyon.

He took a hiatus from school to enlist in the Army, serving in Berlin at the height of the Cold War.  After his discharge, he returned to Stanford, completed law school, and graduated in 1958.

Not long after embarking on a legal career with the California Department of Water Resources and starting a family, Bill took a major detour by joining the fledgling Peace Corps.  With his wife and four children, he moved to Turkey in 1969, where he served as Deputy Director until 1970, when political unrest led to the cancellation of that country's program.   A year later he became the Country Director in Paraguay, a position he held for almost three years.  Bill believed that his Peace corps years marked one of the most important periods of his life.  he and his family were able to travel extensively in both countries, meet many remarkable Turks and Paraguayans, and collaborate with an array of outstanding Peace Corps volunteers and professional staff, many of whom remained friends for life.

Upon returning to the United States, Bill worked a number of years at the County Supervisors Association of California.  Later he became general counsel for Aerojet General Corporation, where he would spend the remainder of his professional career crafting the company's legal defense in various groundwater contamination cases.  At retirement, he was Aerojet's lead environmental attorney.

"Retirement," however, really meant that he could dedicate himself full-time to various environmental causes, mainly in support of efforts to conserve California's streams and rivers.  His passion for rivers--and trout--dated back to his childhood, when his father and grandfather taught him to flyfish on Convict Creek in the eastern Sierras.  Since the 1960's, when his parents purchased a vacation home in Dunsmuir, California, Bill and his children have spent countless thousands of hours casting flies on the waters of the Upper Sacramento, a world-class trout stream.

Thus the blow suffered by the river in 1991--when a southern Pacific train derailed at Cantara Loop, sending a tanker car of herbicide into the water--was not only environmentally catastrophic but personally devastating.  All aquatic life was exterminated downstream to Shasta Lake, and Bill labored the next 10 years with environmental allies and state regulators to force the railroad to implement safety measures that would prevent future derailments.  Their efforts met with mixed success.  Although Southern Pacific (later acquired by Union Pacific) was eventually forced to pay a substantial fine, change certain operating procedures, and build a containment structure at Cantara Loop, the more far-reaching safety reforms sought by Bill were rebuffed in the courts.

Years later, Mr. Frank Pipgras, an executive at California Trout and one of Bill's allies in the long struggle, wrote, "The battle for the Upper Sacramento was a team effort of environmental coalitions, but if I had to name the one person most responsible for extracting a $38,000,000 settlement and bringing the railroad to its knees, it was and still is Bill Berry." In recognition of his efforts, California Trout presented Bill with its Joseph Paul Award in 2003.

fortunately, native rainbow trout from tributary streams eventually restocked the river, and the ecosystem largely rebounded over the years.  Today the Upper Sacramento again supports a healthy population of wild trout.  Bill enjoyed fishing for those trout until early this summer.

He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Peggy; brother, Alan; four children, Bruce, John, jDiane, and Scott; and two grandchildren, Elijah and Kayla.  As a baseball playoffs begin, they will be rooting for his team, the San Francisco Giants, who provided much joy (and not a little hearache) in his final months.  Also, of course, they will cheer for the Stanford football and basketball teams.

Those who would like to remember Fill can make a donation to Save the American River Association, California Trout, High Country News, or Effie Yeaw Nature Center (c/o The American River Natural History Association), organizations that he long supported.

-- published in the Sacramento Bee on October 14, 2010

[A memorial service was held Sunday, November 7th at the Fair Oaks Park District Community Clubhouse in Fair Oaks, CA.]