Persevering . . .
hroughout his difficult journey toward recovery, Jan Berry remained an inspiration to survivors of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Long before actor Christopher Reeve brought the plight of spinal injury patients into the national consciousness, Jan Berry was a high profile example of the rewards of perseverance in the face of physical disability.
Dr. Robert Waters, Chief Medical Officer at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, worked extensively with Jan (beginning in 1969). "Rancho kept me focused on reaching my dream," noted Jan. "Without Rancho and Dr. Waters, I never could have done it." "Count me as Jan's number one fan," says Dr. Waters today. "It's amazing the way he's come back." Jan also attended the Fernald School in the mid-1970s -- a facility at UCLA specializing in the study, diagnosis, and treatment of learning disorders.
In the mid-1980s, Southern California Rehabilitation Services launched the Jan Berry Center for the Brain Injured. The center was established to offer a progressive alternative to traditional outpatient rehabilitation for TBI survivors. With an unstructured Fine Arts approach -- focusing on art, dance, music, and drama -- the Berry Center provided cognitive retraining in a sensory-stimulating environment. "I love the crowds who come to see us perform," wrote co-chairman Jan Berry when the facility opened, "and I thank them for sharing in my recovery. I hope that I can help other disabled people by example. The Berry Center is a dream come true for me. Our greatest challenge is to make life better and brighter for people who come to the center." Jan's fellow co-chairman, Dean Torrence, found it fitting that the Berry Center was launched on the 200th anniversary of America's Constitution. That document guarantees our freedom to live life unmarked by barriers, noted Dean, but "individuals with traumatic brain injury experience a modified or abbreviated form of freedom based solely on their disabilities . . . . Jan and I want to spearhead an employment movement for persons with brain injuries . . . Over and over again, they have made us understand that disability need not mean a handicap." The services of the Berry Center were provided free of charge to applicants meeting admission criteria.
In 1997, Jan Berry reached another milestone in his life and career with the release of his solo album, Second Wave. The project was the culmination of many years of hard work and determination, and featured many top Hollywood studio musicians -- some of whom had played for Jan in the Sixties. Jan's vocals were strong; and once again the old master proved his skills and talents in the studio. He produced the album, co-wrote its new material, and arranged the horn and string parts -- just as he had once upon a time in another life, when rock-n-roll was young, and the world had seemed his for the taking. That summer, the release of Second Wave was featured in People magazine. "For [Jan] to pick up a pencil," explained associate producer Rob Kuropatwa, "and be able to score melody, chords, key signatures, and lyrics takes an excruciatingly long time. He did it all himself."
Jan's life continued to present him with everyday challenges. He still struggled to express himself through a frustrating veil of aphasia and apraxia. He still had to study the lyrics to even his most famous compositions in order to remember them. "I practice all the time," admitted Jan in 1997, "one line at a time, over and over." Gertie Berry, Jan's wife of thirteen years, was proud: "I can't believe how many people come up to me and say, 'I have a niece, I have a brother [who is handicapped], and they look up to Jan in awe."
For 38 years, Jan was an enduring symbol of hope in the face of adversity; and a shining example of accomplishment despite the limitations of physical disability.
Source: "'A Righteous Trip': In the Studio with Jan Berry, 1963-1966." © 2001-2011 by Mark A. Moore. All rights reserved. (Dumb Angel #4, 2005).