With ominous clouds showing signs of storms in the near future, a crowd of people nonetheless showed up Saturday morning to listen to Jim Berry give his farewell speech on the steps of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute.
Berry, who had served as the president and director of RTPI for 16 years before he retired on April 30, was well received by friends, family and fans. Though the masses gathered to hear Berry speak and offer him their congratulations, a few of those who were close to Berry spoke first to offer testament to the hard work and dedication Berry selflessly gave during his time as president.
"I think I speak on behalf of ... the city of Jamestown when I say thank you," said Dr. Lillian Ney. "It's hard to explain what Jim has brought to RTPI. Jim is one of those people who, if you go birding with him, he knows so much, but he is so gentle about saying what he knows. It's truly an art, and I think you're born that way. Even though he knows 3 million times more than most of us, he still allows you to enjoy being an amateur. To recognize what Jim as done for this institute when it had a lot of hard times - a lot of difficult years - he really held the place together. The man is a saint for having done that, in my book. As you all know, he's kept the legacy of Roger Tory Peterson and the whole institute alive."
Jim Berry, former president of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute speaks at a retirement ceremony.
State Assemblyman Andrew Goodell likewise shared much of the same sentiment. Though he could not be at the gathering in person, he sent a certificate in advance congratulating Berry on his accomplishments and thanking him for his record of dedication to RTPI.
"I'd like to tell about three of Jim's personal qualities that I've observed while I've been a part of RTPI," said Dick Reddington. "If you think back over Jim's 16 years, you'll think about the pressure that's been placed upon nonprofit organizations. Throughout that time, Jim has been faithful to the mission, faithful to the program, and faithful to the facility. He has been a great steward of the legacy of Roger Tory Peterson. ... Finally, his love of nature and his ability to interpret it is something that cannot be taught but rather something that one is born with. I've come across a quotation from Ernest Thompson Seton that I felt described Jim very well, which is, 'he was lifted up, with the joy of the naturalist, at seeing so many beautiful living things.' I think that's Jim Berry."
Finally, Berry took to the podium to give his farewell tidings.
Jim Berry, former Roger Tory Peterson Institute president, delivers his farewell speech Saturday morning.
P-J photo by Remington Whitcomb
"I didn't really know what to expect today," said Berry. "I didn't even really think about it in the car until we came over, because I knew if I did, I'd get emotional. (Since retiring) I'm enjoying being a naturalist again. I'm spending lots of time outside and doing the things that I love so much. Just earlier today I found a nice patch of blueberries outside in the town of Poland. ... I really don't know what to say exactly, but I will say that I miss this place, and I'm really touched by all of you, because you've reminded me what it's all about. I've never done this before, but there are some folks here today that have really surprised me by being here, and it's just so wonderful to see all of you."
Berry went on to describe his life leading up to his employment at RTPI.
"Forty years ago, I had just gotten out of college," said Berry. "I didn't really have a job - I did get hired before graduation as a seasonal naturalist in (Ohio). I always knew I wanted to be a naturalist, then I met a naturalist that worked for a nonprofit organization. I knew then that that was exactly what I wanted to do. I started out doing nature walks for campers and by Labor Day, two days before the season closed, I got a job as a park ranger in (Ohio). I was there a few months, then I finally got a full-time job as a naturalist, and here I am, 40 years later. And now I'm going to end my career the same way I started it, with a nature walk."
Berry concluded by giving his thanks to Reddington, the institution and announcing that even in retirement, Chautauqua will continue to be his home, which was met by applause.
Twan Leenders has been chosen as Berry's successor as RTPI's new president.