Dale Berry dies of blood clot in lung

HELENA - Republican Sen. Dale Berry of Hamilton, known in the Montana Senate for his booming coach's voice and calm demeanor, died early Thursday at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital in Hamilton.

Berry, 62, suffered a blood clot in his lung, his son Brian said. Three weeks ago, Berry had surgery on his Achilles tendon, which he had injured during the legislative session.

Berry coached basketball, football and track in Denton, Roundup and Hamilton for 25 years, earning a spot in the Montana Coaches Hall of Fame in 1988. He retired that year - after 20 years as the Hamilton Broncs' boys basketball coach - and took up a new career in real estate. Ten years later, the Ravalli County Commissioners appointed Berry to a vacant seat in the Montana Senate, just days after he won a race for the House.

"He just touched so many people in his life, from 25 years as a teacher and a coach, and then all of this time that he put in with Realtor organizations and Chamber of Commerce, business committees and everything that he sat on, all the way up to the Senate," Brian Berry said Thursday.

"He really did enjoy (the Senate)," he said. "And he was good at it, too."

Berry carried 27 bills during the two sessions he served. Twelve of them have become law.

But Sen. Corey Stapleton, R-Billings, said Thursday that he suspects Berry would prefer to be remembered for his coaching career.

"He was a great coach," Stapleton said. But, he added, Berry's coaching prowess couldn't save the Senate basketball game this year in its biennial matchup with the House.

Stapleton, 33, and Berry were seatmates during the 2001 session and became good friends.

"He wasn't the kind of person who would screw around, but I would get him," Stapleton said. The younger senator also introduced Berry to vanilla lattes, which they drank together nearly every day.

Berry was elected majority whip for the 2001 session and, his colleagues in the Senate said, they expected him to continue rising through the ranks. Current Senate President Tom Beck, R-Deer Lodge, said he had expected Berry to eventually become president of the Senate.

"He will be a tremendous loss to the Legislature," Beck said. "He was definitely leadership, and he was an awful stable person during our whole session."

Beck said Berry had a knack for defusing tempers.

"When things were getting tight and tough, he'd be right there behind you," he said. "He emphasized the good things and de-emphasized the bad things. … He was one fine individual."

"He was just very well-grounded and knew his place in life," Stapleton said.

Gov. Judy Martz said Berry's presence in the Capitol will be sorely missed.

"I always felt that we were truly friends," she said of both Berry and his wife of 38 years, Dorothy. "There are some people who just let you in. They just let you in and let you be their friend, and that's something that we're going to miss in the halls of the Capitol."

Brian Berry said his dad "always saw the good in people, never got mad, brought the best out of people."

Dale Berry is survived by his wife Dorothy and sons Brian and Brad.

There will be a wake held for Berry on Monday at 7:30 p.m. at St. Francis Catholic Church in Hamilton, and Mass will be celebrated Tuesday at 11 a.m. at the old Hamilton High School gym.

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