ADC National recognizes achievements of Sir Michael Berry
Sir. Michael Berry, a lawyer, pioneer of the Arab American community and longtime Wayne County official in Michigan, died this past week. He was 95 years old.
Of Lebanese heritage, Sir Berry was the first Muslim to practice law in Michigan. He dedicated his life to numerous civic, social, allied, and legal associations for over fifty years. Other firsts include his being the first Arab American to hold a high level position in the democratic party, and the first Arab American to head the Wayne County Road Commission.
Sir Berry died on Sunday October 25, 2015. Journalist and Managing Editor of The Arab Daily News Ray Hanania said that Berry’s life represents a major moment in American Arab history and achievement.
“Sir Berry was a good friend and cordial community leader who respected hard work and commitment not just to the American Arab community but to this country,” Hanania said. “I was honored to speak with him many times during writing assignments in Michigan over the years as a journalist and also later as a columnist. He always had something good to say about people.”
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) commemorated Sir Berry’s life and legacy in a release issued this week.
“Sir Berry was a great attorney and public servant, but more importantly, he was a model leader of the Arab-American community. As an attorney, Sir Berry worked to achieve justice for under-served communities, including Arab-Americans. As a public servant, Sir Berry championed diversity while serving on Wayne County Road Commission. He was elected in 1967, and served as Chairman of the Commission for 10 of his 15 years of service until 1982. In his time with the Commission, Sir Berry hired 44 Arabs as well as many people from diverse ethnicities,” the ADC National statement read.
Sir Berry wrote in his autobiography: “I had hired a lot of blacks, Irish, everyone that really applied for a job, including Arab Americans.”
ADC added, “Sir Berry also left a legacy of philanthropy and community building, supporting education and quality healthcare for Arabs in Michigan, as well as in Lebanon, the country of his Arab heritage. He funded scholarships at MSU College of Law, the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Davenport University and Henry Ford College. He also supported hospitals in Michigan and Lebanon. Sir Berry’s philanthropy garnered high honors. For his help in organizing a shipment of medical supplies, the Lebanese government made him a Knight of the National Order of the Cedar, one of Lebanon’s highest honors. Sir Berry was also honored by ADC at our National Convention.”
Sir Berry was born in 1920 to Arab-American immigrants from Southern Lebanon. After enduring poverty during the Great Depression, Sir Berry went on to graduate from Fordson Junior College, Wayne College, and Detroit College of Law.
Sir Berry is survived by his wife Cindy, children Cindi LaCroix, Laura Berry Harris, Carol Ward, Gail Berry, Timothy Berry and Brendan Berry; six grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and siblings Patricia Kelley, Lindy Berry and Frank Berry.
The fascinating life and accomplishments of Michael Berry, entitled “Michael Berry, a Biography” was published by Dearborn author and writer Susan Griffin.
In 2007, Berry was honored by the Arab Chamber of Commerce, feted by keynote speaker and investigative author Seymour Hersh.
Michigan State University offered a detailed bio on Sir Berry’s accomplished life.
Born in Highland Park, Michigan, and growing up with four brothers and four sisters, Berry liked to study and was eager to start working and get on with his life. His rock-solid values of integrity, education, fairness, and equality were among those ingrained in him by his hard-working parents, Mariam and Charles Berry. The family attempted to return to their homeland of Lebanon with their family in 1930, but the depression there was worse than in the United States, so they returned and settled in Dearborn. Michael is grateful for all the opportunities he has had in America.
A good student who graduated from Fordson Junior College and Wayne College, Berry originally wanted to become a doctor. The wait for medical school seemed too long, though, so he applied to Detroit College of Law (DCL). There he became friends with two others students, Arman Simone (now deceased) and David Ambender. These three, who always studied and socialized together, were dubbed “The Three Musketeers.” Due to a glitch in his class schedule, Berry passed the bar exam and tried his first case in 1949, one month before he graduated.
Upon graduation in 1950, he and his associates formed the law practice of Berry, Hopson & Francis in Dearborn. As the first Muslim of Arab descent to practice law in the state of Michigan, Berry had to overcome a great deal of adversity.
Initially taking on every case, Berry later focused on municipal law. In 1967, he was approached to serve on the Wayne County Road Commission. He won the election and quickly put his mark on the agency by righting a skewed bidding system. In one instance, using his science education and lab training, he questioned the composition of fertilizer being purchased and was able to “right” the formula used, opening up the bidding and saving vast amounts of taxpayer dollars. His sharp business acumen earned him the position of chairman, which he held for 10 of his nearly 16 years of service. While he was chairman of the Commission, Berry’s tenacious involvement in Detroit Metro Airport expansion, tight oversight of the bidding process, and execution of contracts earned him great respect. When a separate terminal for international travel was built, it was named in his honor.
His reputation for high ethics, tireless work on behalf of many causes, and an ability to “get big things done” brought him fame not only in Michigan, but also nationally and internationally.
Berry was active in the Democratic Party, chairing the 16th Congressional Democratic District for four terms beginning in the 1960s, and holding other powerful posts. He became friends with several of the Kennedys, and was encouraged to run for higher office himself.
Visitation began Monday from 1-8 pm at the John N. Santeiu & Son Funeral Home, 1139 Inkster Rd., Garden City (between Ford and Cherry Hill). Visitation on Tuesday and Wednesday from 1-8 pm at the Islamic Center of America, 19500 Ford Rd., Dearborn (West of Southfield Fwy.) Funeral services will be held on Thursday 11 am at the Islamic Center of America. Memorial donations may be made to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.