Berry family finds lifesaving care, philanthropic fit at Mayo Clinic

John Berry’s family made the world accessible at one’s fingertips — his grandfather launched a telephone directory publishing business in Dayton, Ohio, that brought the yellow pages to people all over the globe. 

And when the Berry family needed answers for a medical need, they knew who to call. For three generations, Mayo Clinic has provided serious and complex care to the Berrys.

The world-class care they received from Mayo Clinic was a reminder of what the Berry family strived to do: build a stronger community through health care, education and community service. In addition to being patients, they became generous benefactors of Mayo Clinic, supporting gastrointestinal research since the 1950s — and giving hope and healing to other patients who need it.

Lifesaving and Expert Care

John was an active and healthy 30-year-old when one day in 1979 he became ill and was admitted to a local hospital in his hometown of Dayton. His condition was serious, but doctors were unsure of a diagnosis.

Because of his family’s long-standing and loyal patient relationship with Mayo Clinic, John’s father, John Berry Sr., spoke on the phone with the late Hugh R. Butt, M.D., a renowned Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist and family friend, about the severity of his son’s condition. John’s health continued to decline, and at the recommendation of Dr. Butt, he was flown to Mayo Clinic, where his expert medical team quickly determined what to do. 

“I remember every internal medicine doctor was poking me in the stomach,” John says. He recalls being in excruciating pain and alarmed about his rapid deterioration. “I looked nine months pregnant.”

John was diagnosed with toxic megacolon, a rare condition that causes swelling and distension of the colon. If left untreated, the colon can rupture, which allows bacteria to enter the abdominal cavity, causing a life-threatening condition. Within one hour of arriving at Mayo Clinic, John was in surgery.

John recovered with the help of his care team — and gained an immense appreciation for the Mayo physicians, nurses and staff who saved his life. Each year, he celebrates the day he first arrived at Mayo Clinic more than 40 years ago.

“As I hobbled around the hospital, I realized I was a pretty lucky guy,” he says. “I was pretty depressed, wondering if I could get back to a normal, healthy life, but the Mayo team was so positive and supportive. They gave me energy, encouragement, goals and positive reinforcement. It is more than just medicine — there is a culture that exists within Mayo that is greater than the medicine they practice.”

A Legacy of Giving Back

In the 1910s, Loren Berry, John’s grandfather, established a telephone directory publishing business to provide information needed to support the newly emerging telephone industry. Loren, along with John Sr. and John Jr., expanded the company worldwide. They used their success to give back to the community that had given them so much.

John never forgot a lesson he learned from his grandfather: “To make wherever you live a better place, you have to make things better for other people.” 

John and his wife, Shirley, continue to live by that philosophy and have been instrumental in supporting the transformation of gastrointestinal research at Mayo Clinic, along with other members of the Berry family, including his brother, Chuck.

“I can’t imagine what the future holds for science and research,” Shirley says. “But I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves with the impact of our giving.” 

In honor of their generosity, Mayo Clinic recognizes the Berry family as Philanthropic Partners. 

Recently, John and Shirley established the John and Shirley Berry Professorship in Gastrointestinal Sciences at Mayo Clinic, as well as an endowed fund for gastrointestinal research. Their giving represents an expression of gratitude for the lifesaving care John received. 

“I’m appreciative that I came through my surgery and have been able to live a pretty active life,” John says. “I just can’t think of a better way to give back.” 

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Stories of Hope
Interviews, Stories of Hope
Interviews, Stories of Hope