William (Bill) L. Berry, Jr. (Staff)
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
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
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.]