M. Berry Grant, Jr. ’64
With wisdom and grit, alumnus turns challenges into opportunities.
Hailing from a notable family in North Carolina, Berry Grant’s American roots reach back to the construction of the railroad in the Civil War era. Berry’s father, a shrewd and intuitive businessman, earned degrees from both Georgia Institute of Technology and Harvard University. In their youth, a fortunate business deal led Berry’s parents to Allentown, Pennsylvania where three things happened: One, his father purchased the Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company. Two, he quickly recognized a lackluster quality in his business partner, leading him to venture onward in his professional pursuits alone. Three, the move brought Berry to Perkiomen School where, in Berry’s words, he spent “the best three years of his life outside of his 42 years of marriage!”
Berry’s time at Perkiomen was the stuff of legends. From the time he and Stewart Ikeda ’64 beat Hal Cragin and Wayne Engle in a tennis match that spanned the course of two days (it gained an impressive spectatorship and epic win, the teachers being very gracious losers!), to his roommate Bill Fritz’s ’64 (former Chairman of our Board of Trustees!) illegal, home-brewed hard cider exploding in their closet in the middle of the night (“We were sound asleep and heard a ‘BOOM!’… The hard cider had exploded all over our clothes. We had to clean it up and hope that Dean Lytle didn’t come down and find us. Later, we had the dry-cleaning bill from hell!”), to the post-graduate European tour led by Hal Cragin where Berry met an actual Hollywood legend, David Niven, in the airport. Berry remembers, “He signed every autograph for the girls I was with. He was the nicest darn guy; just a class act!” Berry played soccer— and was captain during his senior year, basketball, and tennis. By his own admission, he was “a bit of a square,” went to class, and tried to stay out of trouble!
After he graduated, Berry met a lot of people and learned just as many valuable lessons. When he shares his insights, maybe he is remembering advice from his father, “You need to be honest and forthright; do the right thing. Stay clear of people you know darn well are trouble. Be charitable; try to help others,” or perhaps some of it comes from the close relationship he has kept with his aunt and cousins throughout the years, reflecting on a common adage amongst his kin, “Family helps family if you need help!”
As Berry closed in on retirement, settled for years back in his family’s home state of North Carolina, he looked forward to spending time with his four kids and three grandchildren. Just before leaving to meet his youngest grandbaby, something happened to change the course of his life: Berry was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a chronic, progressive lung disease with no cure and no known cause. With his lungs operating at 40% capacity, the spread of COVID-19 was and is a serious threat. Navigating this new world with extreme caution and care, Berry is just as excited for what’s next as the rest of us. “I didn’t plan on retiring. I didn’t plan on COVID-19 or this lung disease, but I will be living life to the fullest each and every day!… And I’d rather have a scotch by the pool with my wife, anyway,” Berry shares, thoughtfully. While he missed the first years with his youngest grandbaby, Berry still looks ahead with optimism. “You have to go with it,” he says, “I’ll be able to see her safely at some point!”
In the meantime, Berry plans to live until 99 so he can “keep spoiling everyone or make them nuts!” Spoiling everyone is an understatement. Thanks to a $100,000 gift from Berry and his wife, Sheldon, Perkiomen’s new student center will include a gorgeous patio facing the soccer fields. Students and faculty, friends and family members will someday gather in fellowship to watch students compete in an athletic competition that Berry so loved as a student. “I love Perkiomen,” shares Berry. “I am fortunate to be able to do what I can do. The pleasure is all mine.”
This gift, comprised of a multiyear pledge to the annual fund and a bequest, is the best of both worlds. The cash component provides the school immediate support for construction, allowing Berry and Sheldon to see their gift in action during their lifetime, and their planned gift will ensure that the school Berry loves so profoundly will continue to thrive for years into the future.
Berry has a generous heart that comes from a lifetime of giving back, inspired by his father’s work with the local Kiwanis Club in addition to his own leadership with the Kiwanis Club and the Charlotte YMCA. About giving back, Berry shares this: “If you’re in a position where you can help someone, you do it. Be charitable in life and try to do something to benefit someone down the road!” With great anticipation, we will all be waiting for the day when that student center patio is built. Until then, we can each take a page out of Berry’s book: “Be true to yourself. Be a good person. Give back. Be charitable.”