Radically Kind: Rynn Berry

On the 29th of December 2013, a jogger collapsed in New York City, without identification, and lay in intensive care for a week as a photo was circulated with hopes that someone would recognize a face obstructed by a lattice of tubes.

“Sad update,” tweeted Leslie Albrecht of DNAinfo.com in New York City — ‏@ReporterLeslie on Twitter. “Rynn Berry, the #vegan author who collapsed while jogging in Prospect Park, has died.”

Rynn at Summerfest 2012

Rynn at Summerfest 2012

It’s hard to believe it was really Rynn.

There’s one redeeming element in it all: Rynn left happily, gently, jogging in the park. Rynn loved to run and had finished a marathon.

Yet trying, as human nature invariably prompts, to make sense of it all, I recalled those geese, targeted as municipal enemies and rounded up from Prospect Park, never to return, and imagined Rynn having gone to find them.

I can’t imagine the North American Vegetarian Society’s Summerfest without Rynn’s talks. Or lunchtime without the chance to sit down and go over ideas and PowerPoint features—three years ago, we both joined the century and started creating slideshows. Rynn would ask about people I’d seen recently: what they were writing, and how various people’s ideas differed or coalesced. Rynn had a sense of where discourse fit into a greater scheme, was fully present during conversations, and, in one-to-one discussions, listened more than talked.

Rynn Berry. Source: Veggie Pride Parade, New York City

Rynn Berry in New York City. Flickr: Veggie Pride Parade.

But Rynn did speak out, and embraced the role of a public activist. Many thousands of people heard Rynn speak in New York and other cities. And hundreds will miss Rynn on a personal level.

Vegan-organic advocate Harold Brown called Rynn “one of the most outstanding examples of kindness I have had the pleasure of experiencing.”

It’s true.  Rynn Berry carried great intelligence with ease and a quiet grace, and demonstrated the full measure of a human being which surfaces in support for others.

Hitler banned vegetarian groups in Germany and occupied territory.

Hitler banned vegetarian groups in Germany and occupied territory.

In conference workshops, Rynn could revive the thoughts of Leonardo DaVinci, the Buddha, or Pythagoras by offering scripts and inviting people to play their roles, so that within minutes, one really got a feel for the various ways they applied ethics within and beyond humanity. Questions would be answered in fabulous detail, for Rynn knew the languages of original works; thus, for example, when examining a biblical word, Rynn could explain its sense in Aramaic. Rynn’s love of languages came from an abiding interest in uncovering the truth of things. An author or contributor to several books, Rynn is perhaps best known for writing Hitler: Neither Vegetarian Nor Animal Lover (Pythagorean Books, 2004; introduction by Martin Rowe), which revealed that particular image of Hitler as propaganda.

Rynn died in the early afternoon of Thursday, 9 January.

Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Rynn would have been 69 on the 31st of this month.

A brief addition on 16 January 2014: Bob LeRoy, R.D., Nutrition Advisor to the North American Vegetarian Society and founder of the Plant-based Prevention Of Disease (P-POD) project, wrote a note on Rynn’s public obituary that speaks to me with special strength about Rynn, and with Bob’s permission, I post it here.

Our colleague & friend Rynn Berry taught us all a great deal about Ahimsa via how he conducted himself & communicated. His demeanor was always humble & gracious, & he never sought out the limelight. He continually throughout his lifetime built upon his unusually broad range & depth of scholarly knowledge as a historian. Though he very generously shared that fairly unique expertise on countless occasions, there was never a moment when he conveyed any sense of proud self-importance. His passing is a profoundly sad loss, & his kindness, activism & teaching will truly be missed by our extended community.

— Bob LeRoy, Asheville, North Carolina, January 2014

Book jacket source: VegSource.com. For Veggie Pride, see link. Quoted poem: William Cullen Bryant, ThanatopsisCorrection note:  This piece originally stated that Rynn collapsed on the last day of 2013. Chris Suzuki has pointed out that some reporters incorrectly provided that date.