Obituary: Richard Stephen Berry
July 26, 2020
A true lover of Aspen, R. Stephen Berry, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Chemistry University of Chicago, Macarthur Fellow (1983), theorist, researcher, gastronomist, photographer, environmental activist, skier, hiker, fisherman, musician and a family patriarch died at home in Chicago peacefully July 26, 2020.
Steve, as he was best known, was born April 9, 1931, to Ethel and Morris Berry in Denver, CO. Berry became an early afficionado of Silver City knowing he had relatives, the Kobey’s, who had settled in the Roaring Fork Valley during the mining days. Some of his first trips to Aspen were while attending Denver’s East High School along with one of his best friends Hubert Weinshienk. They rode the Ski train to Aspen from Denver. One story from that time was that the lady who herded sheep on Red Mountain offered them land for $20.00 per acre and that he had no money and his parents were not interested.
In 1954 Berry brought his intended bride, Carla, to Aspen and introduced her to his favorite mountain town. This began a fifty plus year family legacy. When George Stranahan started the Aspen Center for Physics in 1962 Berry jumped at the chance to not only be in Aspen during the summer months, and discuss his scientific passions with some of the worlds’ greatest minds, but to bring his entire family along for a magical life well beyond the urban confines.
In 1966 Berry decided to lay down more permanent roots in the community and built a house he called the “Monkey Wranch” in a rural Pitkin County subdivision called Starwood. Little did he know, that several years later a gentleman named John Deutchendorf would ask to build his home across the road from the Berry compound.
Berry thoroughly enjoyed his time in Aspen. Steve would make bi-annual pilgrimages across the nation’s heartland to the mountains and to his roots. Aspen for him was where he could live both in academia and indulge his personal passions for the outdoors. Skiing, hiking, fishing and mushrooming were all pastimes that defined his world. There were many times when Steve could be found planted, along with Syd Meshkov and various other Physies, standing in front of the “map wall” at the physics center planning the upcoming weekend family hike.
Throughout the 90s Berry along with his Physics Center cohorts could be found regularly in the 4th of July Parade, driving a classic Willies Jeep. One of Steve’s favorite memories was getting a speeding ticket in the Willies while coasting downhill on Independence Pass.
He was always passionate about live music and later in life attending the Aspen Music Associates summer concerts and watching opera would be at the forefront of his desired activities. Steve skied his final ski season at 88, and was able to clock nine days on the mountain. He related that he wanted to be more like Klaus Obermeyer and was told that skiing was Mr. Obermeyer’s job and not just a pastime.
Last year, Berry published the last of his accomplishments entitled “3 Laws of Nature: A Little Book on Thermodynamics,” a book in which Berry broke down the concepts behind thermodynamics for nonscience-based thinkers. He uses real-world examples to explain complicated concepts as an important but subtle scientific theory.
Throughout his career Berry published six books titles, countless journal society and professional articles and received numerous awards both nationally and internationally for his keen interest in creating a blended scientific and humanitarian view of a world that strives for the betterment of people and systems alike.
Steve will be missed not only for his great contributions to the realms of science but for his warm welcoming demeanor and smile. Steve could talk to anyone he met and find a common ground in which to relate. He spent his professional life in Chicago but his heart was always in the mountains. Steve will be found dancing in the sunsets over the elk range forevermore.
Steve is survived by his wife Carla F. Berry, three children Andi (Rich), Denise (David)and Eric (Sara) as well as eight grandchildren (Austin, Ethan, Adira, Eliya, Noah, Myra, Aden and Lucas)
In lieu of flowers please donate to any, all or your choice of a local organization that Steve supported: Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES), Aspen Science Center, Aspen Center for Physics, Aspen Music Associates or a charitable org of your choice.
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