Robert Marion Berry, a former U.S. Representative from Arkansas and a Democrat noted for his forthright style and support of farmers and senior citizens, passed away on Friday. He was 80.
Berry, also known as “Marion,” passed away on Friday, according to a statement released by his family on Saturday. There was no mention of a cause of death.
“With his signature quick wit and way with words, he lived his life in service to others,” said Berry’s son, Mitch. “He truly believed that the role of government was to help people, and it was a charge he took very seriously. He was generous with his time and talents as his dozens of mentees can attest.”
Berry was initially elected to Congress in 1996 but declined to run again in 2010 due to his health. In July 2011, he underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor.
Berry, a farmer and certified pharmacist, was chosen to represent the 1st District in eastern Arkansas after working as a special assistant for agricultural trade and food assistance in President Bill Clinton’s administration. He rapidly narrowed his attention to topics like agriculture that would be most likely to affect his particularly underdeveloped district.
Clinton complimented Berry on Saturday, saying that he “never forgot where he came from.”
“Marion Berry was a fine leader, a completely authentic person and a great friend,” Clinton said in a statement. “For more than 40 years, Hillary and I treasured his support, valued his no-nonsense advice and loved his amazing sense of humor.”
In addition to supporting his rural area, Berry was well renowned for his folksy demeanor and verbal jabs at his political rivals on both sides of the political aisle. On the House floor, he once described a Texas Republican representative as a “Howdy-Doody-looking nimrod.”
He described the Federal Emergency Management Agency as “an incompetent bunch of nincompoops that simply can’t run their agency” after becoming dissatisfied with the George W. Bush administration’s reaction to catastrophes in Arkansas.
Berry vigorously lobbied for the lifting of the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba, which may have increased exports of those goods because his congressional district was a significant producer of soybeans, rice, and cotton. In addition, Berry pushed for a reduction in senior citizens’ prescription medication expenses and called the former Bush administration’s prescription drug plan a “catastrophic mess” and “genuine legislative disaster.”
Berry, a member of the “Blue Dog Democrats,” a group of moderate and conservative members, was unrepentant about his jabs, saying they showed his enthusiasm for serving as his district’s representative. In his statement, he stated that he would criticize anyone “when I think they are making a serious policy mistake.”
“I don’t see anything wrong with what I’ve done,” he said.
Berry didn’t hold back in his critique of President Barack Obama. Berry expressed his disappointment with Obama’s “lack of leadership” on significant subjects including health care and climate change shortly before announcing his departure.
Berry voted against the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as “Obamacare,” which is a federal health care bill. Before the measure was approved, Berry argued that it did not offer adequate protection against government funding being used for abortions, and he attempted to propose a substitute.
“A son of the Delta, Marion was a farmer and a statesman, whose mix of homespun wisdom and hard-won political knowledge always made him a formidable representative for our state,” Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.
Berry was raised in the Bayou Meto area close to DeWitt after being born in Stuttgart, Arkansas. He received his pharmacy degree from the University of Arkansas in 1965.
His wife of more than 60 years, Carolyn, a daughter, four grandsons, and one great-grandchild are all among his survivors in addition to his son. In Gillett, Arkansas, a memorial ceremony will be held on June 24 at the Gillett Methodist Church.