Sunday July 26. Noon. I open my facebook page and there it is:
R. Stephen Berry. 9h.
My wonderful life has ended.
I passed peacefully in the presence of my family.
Live well and believe in Science.
He was so old and so vibrant that we thought he might live forever, encouraging the best in each of us as he was wont to do.
If there are architects of the “new Telluride”, R. Stephen Berry would be named one of them. As a companion to music festivals, we have a strong science presence. Workshops that initially hosted single digits now host thousands and feed the summer economy in a healthy and robust fashion. I was in the Telluride Academy office at the Telluride School -the era of one building for K-12 and Camp Telluride in the summer. Two interesting looking men walked into our humble office. They said they were scientists from the Aspen Institute and they wanted to start a summer research center down here in Telluride. It would be a bit different from the Aspen Institute in that all levels of scientists would gather together. Post docs would listen to full professors and then they and captains of industry would listen to the post docs: scientific research would be advanced more rapidly when three generations of researchers from the four corners of the world collaborated.
The men were also interested in our computer lab (the only one in a high school in western Colorado, designed and staffed by the THS math teacher Irwin Witzel): six Macintoshs and a dot matrix printer. Finally, Dr. Berry and his associate Peter Salamon were firm believers in the ability of scientists to think more clearly and farther outside the box when they were alone on high mountain trails in remote corners of the Rockies. Or fishing the streams that flowed through town. And Telluride had these assets. And the Academy could serve as their administrative wing. And so the Telluride Summer Research Center was born. In the summer of ’84, 7 scientists inaugurated Colorado’s new think tank for theoretical physicists and chemists with a three-week long workshop on finite-time thermodynamics. It was so well received that the group decided to host three workshops the following summer.
A decade later a thousand people from academia and industry and from Asia, Europe and North and South America attended one of perhaps twenty different workshops. Mini workshops for Telluride Academy campers and community lectures were offered by various visiting scientists. On the 4th of July, the scientists routinely joined the parade, offering up floats and marching groups that represented the absurd and surreal. They often won the coveted blue ribbons. Stephen Berry and Peter Salamon were often present and their presence was always felt. They thrived in the success of this new model.
When the TSRC folks arrived for the summer, they always brought cutting-edge technology for us to share. They brought the first fax machine that anyone in Telluride had ever seen. School and government officials would knock on the door of the Academy office asking permission to send an important document quickly to a faraway place. They had cell phones before the rest of us did and “portable” computers to say nothing of a myriad of programs that they generously shared.
In 1989, Dr. Konopka and colleagues held one of TSRC and America’s first workshops that sought to decode DNA; they spent three weeks in the Sheridan Hotel, courtesy of Grant McCargo exploring this intriguing new field of study. Years after on the fourth of July the lunar module landed on the moon; parts of it were built by the robotics team that was marching in the parade that morning. When a successful landing was announced, the whole parade shouted for joy. Stephen held the leadership role for many years, approving workshops and determining areas for expansion. At the same time, he was primarily a full professor at the University of Chicago and an advisor on nuclear “issues” with President Ronald Reagan. His wife, Carla taught science education to future teachers at Roosevelt University in Chicago and then began teaching summer workshops called Science Detectives for Telluride Academy third graders.
Steve and Carla were a huge presence in Telluride for several decades. They would spend 4-6 weeks in Telluride town and up on Sunshine Mesa where the family camped on their holdings in the hourglass meadow and down at the old dairy barn. Stephen loved to don his old waders, climb in his classic blue jeep and fish the local streams – always thinking about his science. He organized excursions for visiting Asian and European scientist friends, often with Rowdy Rodabush up on the west meadow.
He was a Renaissance man of the finest breed and a friend and mentor to thousands in the global scientific community. Stephen had a way about him that friends will always remember. Stephen gifted Telluride with an identity that has only grown over the years: as a center for serious scientific study.