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October 04, 2013

Celebrating the Life of Phil Berry: 1937-2013

Phil BerryThe Sierra Club, the conservation community, and all who cherish and enjoy our nation's wild places, clean air, and clean water, bade farewell to a true environmental giant when three-time Sierra Club president Phil Berry died on September 22. He was 76.

Born in 1937 in Berkeley, California, Phillip Samuel Berry graduated from Berkeley High School in 1954, Stanford University in 1958, and Stanford Law School in 1961. He went on to make his greatest mark as a pioneer in the field of environmental law.

As a boy, Berry accompanied his father and two brothers on a backcountry trip to Yosemite, triggering a lifelong love of wilderness. After the trip, he learned about the Sierra Club from a fellow boy scout, whose father was a member. He went on to volunteer for the Club's High Trips every summer during high school, continued to participate in backcountry outings throughout his years at Stanford, and led High Trips himself for years afterward.

Berry made his mark on Sierra Club legal history even before he completed law school. David Brower, the Club's executive director at the time, was concerned about the possibility that the Club might lose its tax-deductible status for its work to prevent the building of two proposed dams in the Grand Canyon. Berry consulted his professors at Stanford, who assured him that the Club could indeed form a separate tax-deductible entity. The advice proved correct, leading to the establishment of the Sierra Club Foundation.

Berry's first term as Sierra Club president coincided with the first Earth Day, the passage of landmark environmental legislation such as the National Environmental Policy Act, and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. Under his leadership, the Club widened the scope of its agenda from wilderness conservation to include, pollution, energy, population, and urban issues. The Sierra Club that emerged was essentially the organization we know today -- dedicated to principles of sustainability and protecting the environment in the broadest sense.

In addition to his three terms as Sierra Club president (1968-1974, 1975-1981, and 1982-1988), Berry served on the Club's Board of Directors for 30 years, during which time he was instrumental in several key developments within the environmental community, including co-founding the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund -- now Earthjustice. In 1978, at the age of 41, he was awarded the Club's highest honor, the John Muir Award.

Berry was also an advisory board member to the U.C. Berkeley College of Natural Resources and a board member of Pacific Environment, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the environment of the Pacific Rim.

A celebration of Phil Berry's life will be held on Friday, October 11, at 1:00 pm at Shiloh Church in Oakland. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Pacific Environment (for the preservation of Amur or Bengal Tigers), or the World Wildlife Fund (for the preservation of Amur or Bengal Tigers).

Read more about the life of Phil Berry.

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