Only once in all these years as a daily grind-it-out newspaper reporter has there been the experience of writing a story, scheduling it for publication and then giving in to a request that it be summarily killed.
The simple but beautiful details deserve at last to be disclosed, however belatedly, because of their historical human significance, spirit and glory.
It was Raymond Berry who checked signals on the story, hoping that what he was doing in Cambridge, Md., in the winter of 1966 would be quietly forgotten.
Berry’s involvement was a personal matter. He was serving as a peacemaker, a one-man monitoring station, between the black and white communities after the fires of racial unrest had inflamed the city.
A story was written pointing out what Berry, as a volunteer, had accomplished during a seven-month period when he lived in Cambridge.
The details were of such a personal nature that facts had to be checked. When he saw what a sportswriter had in hand, a column ready to go, Berry asked that it not be used.
“It’s all true, just as you’ve put it together, but I sincerely request you not print it,” he said, with a deep sense of feeling to his voice. Why? “Because this is something I wanted to do in Cambridge and I ask you, as a friend, not to put it in the newspaper.”
Yes, Raymond, but why do you feel so strongly about it? He looked at his wife, Sally, sitting across the living room, and answered, “You have to remember this is an important individual involvement. To write so favorably about me, when the issue is so vital . . . well, it just wouldn’t be right.”
Again, why not? “It might give the appearance to some readers that I had gone off to try to be of help in an explosive predicament and then was trying to ‘grandstand’ or take a bow for the role I attempted to play,” he explained. “I don’t believe you deserve praise for that.”
So, after such a compelling reaction, the story went on the spike. It was never printed . . . until now.
Berry is now the coach of the New England Patriots. He’ll probably be upset that after all these years details of his kindness and compassion are being disclosed to the public.
How Berry got to Cambridge was interesting in itself. The Maryland National Guard had been called out to quiet the havoc, to patrol the streets and attempt to bring about an understanding that burning buildings and stoning the police weren’t going to be tolerated. The scene settled into a restrained but precarious quiet, but National Guard leaders were concerned that trouble might erupt again.
The late commander, Gen. Hugh Gelston, was in a quandary. He told friends that he needed a man of reputation who had the respect of blacks and whites, who could monitor the feelings of the citizenry, make decisions and ease the pressures. The idea occurred to him that if he could get a Baltimore Colt player to somehow assume the obligation of going there, the effort might have a chance of succeeding.
Berry’s name quickly came to mind because of his presence with the Colts and the standing he had in the NFL. Then an aide informed him that Berry was a member of the Maryland National Guard, a private first class. So it followed that the general sent for the private. But the general couldn’t give the private a direct order of what he should do in his free time, when Berry expected to be home for the off-season in his hometown of Paris, Tex.
The general outlined what he hoped Berry might be able to do. Berry listened and, before he made a decision, said he wanted to reflect upon the request and pray to God for direction. In a matter of days, Berry returned to see Gelston, once more a private talking to a general. His decision was to accept the call to Cambridge.
The general next told him that a prominent foundation had earmarked money for a weekly salary and that he would be provided housing and a car. But Berry was shaking his head. He spoke up, “When I go, I will not accept any compensation,” he said. “I feel I’m doing the work of the Lord and it would be unfair to take a salary.”
That’s what Raymond Berry decided to do, but there could be no monetary return or he wasn’t going to be interested. When he arrived, Cambridge was filled with hostility but Berry, in his calming and concerned manner, held meetings with members of both factions and brought them together. He wasn’t out front taking bows but was concerned seven days a week, for seven straight months, in doing what was needed--easing tensions.
It was a high-voltage public relations assignment, where the stakes were high because human lives were involved. Berry quietly went about the chores of the day, listening to complaints from varied groups and individuals, all with strong feelings, but getting the message of cooperation across to both black and white. The desired result came about by the equitably fair course he steered, the way he addressed the volatile issues.
Berry was an exceptional football player, an All-Pro, the all-time NFL pass-catching champion when he retired. Then came enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, class of 1973. No greater honor can come to a player or coach.
But his contributions in Cambridge, Md., when anger filled the air, qualify him more importantly for the Hall of Fame for Humanity.
He has truly been his brother’s keeper.