Thomas Berry (1948?-2010) was a student at Perkins School for the Blind for eight years. Berry was a member of the class of 1968, photographed above. Berry is standing third from the left, a young man wearing a graduation gown. While at Perkins, Berry was on the wrestling team and a member of the Glee Club. As a member of the Glee Club, Berry performed at Helen Keller’s funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC in 1968. After graduation, Berry worked in the Vending Stand program run by the Commission for the Blind before deciding to go into massage. He took courses at the New England School of Massage (Quincy, MA), the New England Institute (Boston, MA), and finally at the Harvard Club. He worked at the Harvard Club for 34 years until he retired.
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This interview is a digitized copy of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Perkins School for the Blind. The interview was conducted on June 12, 2004, by Susan Summersby. The audio and transcript provided have been edited to protect the privacy of the interviewee.
This oral history transcript may be quoted if cited. A preferred citation is provided. The interview may not be published in full except with the permission of the Perkins School for the Blind. For permission please contact [email protected].
Berry, Thomas. “Thomas Berry oral history interview conducted by Susan Summersby,” 2004-06-12, Perkins Archives Oral History Project, AG195-2004-02, Perkins School for the Blind Archives.
Susan Summersby: This is Susan Summersby. It’s Alumni Weekend, June 12, 2004. I am here with Thomas Berry and we are going to do an oral history interview. Tom, I would like to ask you to say your name.
Thomas Berry: My name is Thomas Robert Berry, III.
Summersby: Thank you. In looking back when you were here at Perkins, as you were anticipating coming, did you have any expectations of what you would be coming to or what the school would be like? Did Perkins fulfill those expectations for you?
Berry: I heard about Perkins but I know when I first came here, my mother was – she thought she was doing the wrong thing, you know how mothers are, staying overnight, the first time I had ever been away from – I had been to public school before, but the first time I stayed at school and been away from home and she cried, but now, she looks back and – I feel the same way, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me, great experience for me. The teachers I had were fantastic. I really enjoyed being here for the eight years. I learned a lot and made a lot of great friends while I was here. I was in the Glee club and on the wrestling team. I wrestled at Perkins. I really enjoyed all the teachers I had, most of the teachers I had I really enjoyed. I had a great time, great experience. I liked it a lot. I learned an awful lot in the eight years I was here.
Summersby: Do you think that you could identify one thing that perhaps brought you the greatest joy here as a student at Perkins?
Berry: Well, one of the greatest thrills I had – a couple of days before I graduated from Perkins, I had the privilege of singing with the Glee Club at Helen Keller’s funeral. It was beautiful. It was at the National Cathedral in Washington. In 1966, I sang at the 50th centennial of Anne Sullivan down at the National Cathedral in Washington. Those are probably the two greatest things I will never forget. I will always tell my nieces and nephews that I had the privilege of singing at the 50th centennial of Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller’s funeral. It’s something you never forget. Seeing Ronald Reagan’s funeral the other day, the cathedral reminded me of being there in person. It’s absolutely breath-taking.
Summersby: What classes prepared you for our life after you left Perkins? Are there any that stand out?
Berry: I liked the physical education courses. I enjoyed athletics here when I was here. Some of the subjects I took, like US history, I enjoyed, [Calvin Canade], I had him for a teacher Molly Cambridge, she was a teacher I had for algebra. I liked Paul Bauguss, he was my choral teacher. Peggy Miller, who was my Dictaphone teacher, we still keep in touch. There are a few people that I really liked over the years and have kept in touch with. A few have passed away, unfortunately, but like Peggy Miller, I keep in touch with all the time. It’s great. I think it’s great to keep in touch with people.
Summersby: What about cottage life? Could you describe what that was like?
Berry: I was in Elliott Cottage for all the eight years I was here and it was, I had a housemother for seven out of the eight years and she passed away about ten years ago, [Mrs. McCall], she was fantastic. Like I say, she was like my second mother to me away from home and she was great. I liked cottage life. You met different staff and different people over the years. When you are at Perkins, you had a schedule, your breakfast, dish crew, do your room, and then, you had chapel, your four periods of classes a morning, lunch, classes in the afternoon, and then, I was on the wrestling team and we used to have to practice, and then, your studies. It was a full day. From 6:30 to well, junior high 9:30 and but later on, senior high and stuff, 10:00. It was every day. I enjoyed it.
Summersby: If you had to put a grade on the quality of life and your experience at Perkins, what grade might you give it and why?
Berry: I would give it 100%. Just the experiences, being taught my responsibility, and like I say, being a senior, for example, running the senior store and being in the Glee Club, going places, wrestling for the school, going to tournaments, that was a thrill and a half. One of my greatest thrills as senior was taking fourth place in a tournament in Baltimore, Maryland. I enjoyed mostly everything I did at Perkins, especially like wrestling, athletics, singing in the Glee Club. I really liked a lot of my classes.
Summersby: Was there a particular teacher or staff person that might have had the greatest influence on you?
Berry: Well, I kind of goofed off particularly when I first had him, he was Ed Jenkins and he was my music braille teacher and he got a little perturbed with me at first, but then I got into a good rapport with him and I liked him a lot, both him and his wife, I had both of them for music braille, but I liked him a lot because he had a great sense of humor. I can remember one day he says to me, Tom, meet me over the Hi-FI room. I said, OK. So, this was over on the Boys’ side, the Hi-Fi room at the time. So, I get over there before he got there and he comes down the hall and he used to have this big ring of keys and you could hear him. I said, oh gee, here comes a guard from Walpole. He just busted up laughing. I used to tease him because he sounded like a guard in a prison with all his keys he had. He had a great sense of humor and laughed like anything. I always liked him for that. His wife, Mrs. Jenkins, I also had her for music braille and they were great people. They used to take us over to their house at the end of the year for spaghetti dinner, people that he had in his class and it was great.
Summersby: What about holidays at Perkins, is there any particular holiday…
Berry: Well, Christmas time, the Christmas concerts were beautiful. I enjoyed singing in the Christmas concert, they were great. I think that’s probably my most memorable. I like Christmas concerts; it was great doing that.
Summersby: Yesterday, we just graduated a class of students, some new alumni. If you had an opportunity to give advice to them, what advice would you give to the graduating class of this year?
Berry: Well, like I say, you are out in a different world after you graduate. Look for a job. Try to join the Alumni Association. Personally, I think it’s good to be an Alumni member and keep up with the school. I mean, you want to be true to our school that you graduated from and if you can help them out in any way, like being on the board, any committee, it’s great. I served as President for a couple of years and that was probably the biggest thrill of my life or one of the biggest thrills of my life. I can remember after my two-year term, – it’s hard work, you have to go to meetings and stuff, but I enjoyed it. To me, at the end of the two-year period, it was really worth it. I can remember alumni coming up to me at the end of my term and saying, Tom, you did a great job and that meant more to me – I mean I know it’s hard work, but when the alumni appreciate what you did for two-years and they say, hey, you did a good job, that really meant a lot to me and I really enjoyed it. I am a lay member now, and I have just been elected a lay member, one of the officers on a committee so I will be here in October, again, but I enjoy coming up and being on the board. It’s a lot of fun.
Summersby: What did you do after you left Perkins?
Berry: After I left Perkins, I tried the Vending Stand program run by the Commission for the Blind and I worked in that for about year and a half. I did some training and then I worked in a store, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Some people do real well in it, but then, I decided I was going to go into massage so I took a course for massage and I have taken a course at New England School of Massage in Quincy and then I took a course at New England Institute in Allston and then, my final course, took a course in massage at the Harvard Club, where I currently work now. Maxie (inaudible), her name was, she worked there for a while, but she taught me deep muscle massage so I have been there – I start my 30th year at the Harvard Club September 8. I really like the Club and they have been very good to me and I am very blessed to have a job like that. The thing is when I am not – this time of year, it’s kind of slow, so when I am not massaging, I help out, I work in the athletic department so I help out at the desk, I will answer phone calls, transfer calls. Members come in and ask for day lockers they have lockers in the back of the locker room and you give the desk attendant identification, say a license or something like that, and then you give them a locker key and when they are done working out, they bring the key back to you and you give them their identification back. I would do that at the desk. We have a laundry service that we fold towels, members have lockers and they have laundry bags that go to their lockers, but I help fold towels, just to keep doing things when I am not massaging. This is good and it makes the day go by quicker. I also have a chance, we have a great fitness center at the Club and I also have a chance, usually around 2:30 in the afternoon for about an hour, I will go down and work out, do my cardio and stuff, and then, of course, they know where I am and if I do get a massage or somebody wants a massage, they just call up the fitness center and say, you have a massage, the Club. I am lucky to have very good. I have good medical insurance and good dental. I have HMO Blue and I have the Delta Dental. So, I say, having a job like that – I made a lot of great friends there over the years and I have lost a lot of them from passing away or they leave the Club for some other job, but I have made a lot of great friends while I’ve been there and I really enjoy working. I have five weeks vacation. In three more weeks, will start my second and third week and then near the end of August, I will have my fourth and fifth weeks. It’s great. I am very lucky and blest to have this job. I really enjoy it.
Summersby: So, your job and some of your interests here at Perkins and being in sports, how about your music?
Berry: Yeah, I play the accordion. I took organ lessons for while, but right now, I play the accordion. I got rid of my organ as the house we have right now is too small for it. I enjoy that. I like listening to music. I watch TV. I am an avid sports fan and I go see the Patriots once in a while, Red Sox, Bruins not as much, but I have seen them. I used to have season tickets in the 70’s for the Bruins but it just got to be too much money. I do have season tickets, and I have had them for 27 years, for Harvard hockey. I love college hockey. So they play at Bright-Landry Hockey Center on the Harvard campus and I really enjoy going there.
Summersby: You were on the wrestling team, what other teams did they have at Perkins?
Berry: They had track. I tried, but I wasn’t – track just wasn’t my – I played – we had touch football at Perkins between the cottages and then we also had baseball. They use a bat and soccer ball and they bounce the ball. We played baseball in spring. In the wintertime, I wrestled.
Summersby: What about the pool? I had
Berry: The pool – the only thing I wish they still had – I am sorry they took them out – the bowling alleys. I like to bowl. I enjoyed the bowling alley. Every Alumni weekend, I used to come and bowl. I am very sorry they took those out. I just look forward to coming back here to Alumni weekend, to see people. I wish I could see more of my classmates. I did see one of them that showed up. There were 20 of us in our class and I wish more would come. But, as I say, it’s good to see people around my era, around the time that I graduated. I have quite a few friends. I just like Alumni weekend and I think you people at Perkins do a fantastic job. It’s a tough job, this weekend, and it’s hard. You have a lot of preparation. Just hope that the students, the alumni appreciate what you all do here. It’s hard work, kudos to you and to Sandy. Sandy does one heck of a job here. She deserves a gold medal as far as I’m concerned. Great weekend. I always have a good time here. The only problem is that it goes by too fast.
I am looking forward to the banquet tonight, the cocktail hour and banquet. It will be good – I am sure my friends, the Ellis’s will be here. Claude Ellis was my gym teacher. He was principal when I was here, the high school. I always call Mr. Ellis “Coach” because I remember him – he is just a good friend. He has gone to Harvard hockey games and Bruins games over the year.
We have become very close friends. It’s always good to see him when I come up for Alumni Weekend. Mr. Smith, I guess he can’t make it, unfortunately, this year, but I enjoy seeing him. Dr. Waterhouse, I am sorry that he passed away. I liked him. Kevin Lessard. When I was a student here, he was a cane travel teacher, but Kevin is a great guy. Ken Stuckey, who was head of the Research Library, we were good friends. I had his former wife, Sally, for geometry. I hope Mr. Stuckey is doing well over in Sweden; I know he is there now. Like I said, I made lot of good friends here over the years. Peggy Miller, I talk to her all the time; she used to be my Dictaphone teacher. She is an avid Red Sox fan and we have gone to Red Sox games together. We go out to lunch once in a while.
Summersby: You do stay in touch with several people.
Berry: I don’t think Mr. Ackerman is here this year. He was my English teacher when I was a senior. I liked him also. Some of my teachers, unfortunately, have passed away. Life goes on, but you still remember them.
Summersby: Well, Tom, thank you very much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Berry: I hope I helped you out here.
Summersby: Absolutely. I appreciate your time and I am sure the school appreciates it.
Berry: I am very happy to do it.
Summersby: Thank you.
Berry: You’re welcome.