The Caribbean Mourns The Passing of Lorraine Berry

Basseterre, St. Kitts – Nevis
August 01, 2010 (CUOPM)

St. Kitts and Nevis’ Prime Minister Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas has expressed condolences on the passing of former longtime United States Virgin Islands Senator, the Honourable Lorraine Berry.

Sen. Berry, whose father, the late Joseph Ledee of Sandy Point, St. Kitts, died two Mondays ago following a year-long battle from colon cancer.

“On behalf of the Government and the People of St. Kitts and Nevis I extend sincere condolence to the family of Senator Lorraine Berry of the United States Virgin Islands on passing,” said Prime Minister Douglas in a message to U.S. Virgin Islands Governor, the Hon. John de Jongh Jr.

Prime Minister Douglas said Lorraine Berry’s “long career in Public life was dedicated to the improvement in the quality of all the people of the United States Virgin Islands.”

“She has laboured long and hard and we give God thanks for her service to her people.  To her family, I, say you can rest assured that her Record in public was one that you can all be proud of,” added Dr. Douglas.

Dr. Douglas, who had known Senator Lorraine Berry for some time and who had met her on several occasions, added:

“I have found her to be a competent and hard working individual; one who was first with a passion to assist her fellow men.  She was prepared to defend her beliefs, good governance and fairness to the very end. Senator Berry is now out of her pains and suffering and may the host of angles accompany her to the Throne of Eternal Grace.”

Lorraine Berry, described by friends and colleagues as a leader, the consummate politician who fought passionately for causes she believed in and tried to make life better for all Virgin Islanders last Monday night at Schneider Hospital.

Berry, 60, was a Virgin Islands senator for almost a quarter of a century, the only V.I. senator elected to 12 consecutive terms, and was a very public figure in the territory for many years until she retired from office in January 2007.

“There’s no one that can deny the fact that Senator Berry was truly a giant in our community,” Gov. John deJongh Jr. said Tuesday in a condolence message to the family and reported in the Virgin Islands Daily News.

He described Berry as a person who took risks to achieve what she believed in and who was unafraid to take positions that were unpopular to accomplish what she felt was necessary for the community to move forward.

The governor ordered that flags on all public buildings in the territory be flown at half-staff in Berry’s honor.

James Francis, who was Berry’s chief of staff for years, said she was “wholly committed to the people of the Virgin Islands and to a government that would be caring and would be transparent.”
Describing Berry as the “consummate politician,” Francis said she knew and loved politics and used her knowledge to accomplish much.

One of her strong points was that she was “willing to speak to anyone and everyone in an effort to get a bill passed for the people of the Virgin Islands,” Francis said. “She would solicit the support of any senator from any side of the aisle, even those who might be critical of her”.
“She never permitted personalities to get in her way in her desire to pass good legislation for the people of the Virgin Islands,” he said, adding that her priorities included health care, education and the economy.

One of the pieces of legislation that Berry was proudest to have worked on was a bill that earmarked settlement monies the territory received from a tobacco lawsuit to help build a cancer center on St. Thomas and a cardiac center on St. Croix, Francis said.

While one group of senators was considering using the money to pay retroactive wage increases, Berry and another group thought it needed to go to health care, he said.

Both the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute and the Virgin Islands Cardiac Center are now open and treating patients.

Francis said he believes Berry would most want to be remembered for her commitment to improving the lives of all Virgin Islanders.

Anne Golden, who was a senator with Berry in the 23rd Legislature and later worked as an adviser to her, said Berry “was a master of that Senate.”

“She was brave. A true leader. Fearless. Honest. Compassionate,” Golden said. “She was a good human being.”

Berry shook up the old political guard when she first ran for senator in 1982.

“She was criticized for running, as a woman. They laughed at her,” Golden said. �But she proved to the old guard that a PTA president � a mother who cared � could also become a member of the Senate.”

In a 2006 interview with The Daily News when she was running for lieutenant governor, Berry recalled her first election.

“I remember no one believed I could win. Nobody. They said, �Oh, she just running around the track for the exercise,”, Berry recalled. She also remembered their shock, and multiple requests for recounts, when she not only won one of the seven St. Thomas-St. John District seats, but came in fifth.

She held on to that seat for 24 years.

Berry also held a number of leadership positions within the Legislature, serving as chairwoman for a variety of committees over the years and as Senate president during the 22nd and 26th Legislatures. She was Senate vice president for the 25th Legislature and a majority leader in the 18th Legislature.

Despite a shake-up in the majority during the 26th Legislature, she held onto the Senate presidency.
“In one term, she switched majorities and became the president of both,” Golden said. “She got criticized, but she remained president. It wasn’t beyond her to find the perfect fit. She would go up against the best of them, the brightest of them. She never backed down.”

During her years as a senator, Berry brought about many policy changes and sponsored and co-sponsored legislation that continues to benefit people in the territory.

“Any human being who lives in these Virgin Islands, who benefits from government services, who benefits from the hospitals, benefits from something Lorraine Berry did,” Golden said. “She’s touching people�s lives even today as we speak.”

Sen. Celestino White Sr., who served 16 of his 20 years in the Senate with Berry, typically wound up on the opposite side of the aisle from Berry when the Senate majority and minority formed. He described her as “an effective, committed warrior.”

The two were known for their strong and colorful debates over the years.

He said Tuesday that he has missed Berry since the day she left the Legislature in 2007.

“It was because of Senator Berry and her ability to really analyze things and her ability to engage in lively debate that sharpened my skills of debating,” White said. “She made you sharp, because she fought good issues, she stuck with them, and she had a good record of productivity.”

“She was so committed. She was generally the only female among the fellows, but never fearful, never backed down, never gave up. An issue she thought was important, not to her personally, but to the community at large, she stuck with it, debated it,” he said. “And even in the instant cases where I tried to intimidate her with my loudness and gestures, she always had good one-liners to come back.”

White said that he and Berry understood each other’s politics, and that she believed they both felt the same way about the people of the territory but had different ideas of how to go about accomplishing what needed to be done.

“She understood, and I understood, and she and I would have a good chuckle when we were finished,” White said.

“I was saddened from the time she left the Legislature, because the lady simply had the goodness of the Virgin Islands and its people at heart,” he said.

Berry also ran for governor in the 1986 Democratic primary and was a candidate for lieutenant governor in the 2006 Democratic primary, a running mate to retired Judge Edgar Ross, who was running for governor.

Her friends remembered Berry as a woman who took up the cause of other women, holding forums and mentoring younger women.

“She was a great woman, a great politician, and she really cared. She always spoke her mind, even when it was to her personal or political disadvantage,” said attorney Adriane Dudley, adding that, when Berry was criticized for being outspoken and shining the light on situations others preferred to keep out of the public eye, she would say, “It doesn�t matter; the people have a right to know the truth.”

“She was feisty and proud,” Dudley said. “She was definitely a fighter, for the people of the Virgin Islands, particularly the women of the Virgin Islands.”

A few years ago, Berry was awarded the Knight of the Ordre national du M’rite from the government of France for her efforts to restore and preserve the French culture in the territory.
She wore the medal “with great pride and pleasure, plus it was blue and matched her almost always “red” outfits,” said Odile de Lyrot, the honorary French consul to the Virgin Islands.

Henry Richardson, president of the Frenchtown Civic Organization, said Berry was a vital part of the French community and will be well-remembered for her contributions to French Heritage Week.

But he said he hopes she is remembered for much more. “She was a determined servant of the people,” he said. “She worked for everybody.” Berry was also active in many community organizations.

Berry is survived by her husband, Richard Berry; her son, Kurt Berry; her daughter and son-in-law, Roxanne and Anthony Bellotti; her mother, Emelda Ledee; and one grandson, Max Bellotti. 

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