Michael Berry has an airport terminal named after him, a book written about him and a cousin who is the most powerful man in the Lebanese parliament. Other than that, he’s just like you and me.
Berry, the dynamic lawyer, a graduate of Detroit College of Law with an LLB Degree and Juris Doctor Degree, is one of the pillars of our Arab American community (the first Muslim attorney to practice law in the State of Michigan), and his list of contributions would probably warrant its own documentary. Certainly, the recently published Michael Berry, by Susan Giffin, chronicles Berry’s accomplishments, both in the political and legal arena, and with his family.
He remains close to his Lebanese heritage, as was proven in the in-depth interview ‘Our Arab American Story’ did at his Dearborn home. Berry, now in his eighties, speaks with unequalled passion about his father, who immigrated to the United States in the first decade of the Twentieth century; first to Colorado, where he worked for the railroad, then to the steel mills of Indiana, and finally to Highland Park, where he spent forty-five years at Ford Motor Company. Berry feels that he is in a good position to speculate on his father’s courage and sacrifice: he himself put in a couple of weeks at the car company before the noise, heat and deadly pressure of an assembly line had him back at school, aspiring for a better life.”
“Mom was never so glad as when I quite Ford,” he reminisces now with a smile. “I used to think my Dad was titular head of the family, but I now see that, like in many Lebanese families, it is the wife that gets things done!”
This doesn’t take anything away from his father, of course, and some of Berry’s fondest childhood memories center around the good times they spent together. “I was third in the birth order, save for an older brother who passed away; but my father tended to look to me for a lot of the things he needed, especially if it involved paperwork. He was much more mechanically inclined, and I remember him refurbishing old engines during the Depression, selling them to make extra cash for the family. By that time, we had moved out of Highland Park, to Dearborn. I grew up in the South End, in a house that rented for $12 a month: today we’d call it a ghetto, but these were wonderful years. We played street hockey, sandlot ball. I experienced a bit of discrimination at Salinas school and later at Fordson, but oddly, it wasn’t for being Lebanese. We were referred to as the ‘Terrible Turks.”
Berry overcame any obstacles presented by small-minded critics, becoming city attorney for many communities, as well as former Chairman 16th Congressional Democratic District. He was the 1960 Presidential Elector and former delegate National Convention Democratic Party for John F. Kennedy, and a former member and Chairman of the Board of Wayne County Road Commissioners. It was this latter position which resulted in the naming Michael Berry Terminal at DTW, a project to which he lent incalculable support.
Berry was also the recipient of the Danny Thomas Award in recognition of outstanding efforts in furthering goals of St. Jude’s Research Hospital, an honor of which he is particularly proud.