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Former Newsday reporter Warren Berry dies at 79

Newsday reporter Warren Berry in his office at

Newsday reporter Warren Berry in his office at Newsday. (Feb.16, 1994) Credit: Julia Gaines

Warren Berry, a powerhouse writer who covered everything from the New York Stock Exchange to the Nixon White House, spent most of his lengthy newspaper career at Newsday, befriending colleagues and captivating readers.

Berry died of congestive heart failure Friday night at his home on Eatons Neck, a hamlet of Northport, his family said. He was 79.

"If you forced me to put it in two words -- 'not dull' -- that would be a great headline for Warren," said John Mancini, Newsday editor from 2004 to 2010.

"Warren was one of the most generous colleagues I've worked alongside," Newsday Editor Deborah Henley said. "He shared his talent and deep experience with others willingly and always had a word of encouragement."

Berry began his career as a copy boy for The New York Times in the mid-1950s. He was later snapped up by the New York Herald Tribune, which assigned him to cover the stock market -- though he admitted knowing nothing about business.

He was once feared dead while covering Alaska's devastating 1964 earthquake. A last-minute flight switch kept him off a helicopter that later crashed, saving his life.

The Herald Tribune, fearing the worst, reported his possible demise. "They put him as 'suspected dead' then printed a retraction," recalled Berry's wife, Una "Moya" Berry.

The couple met at the urging of one of Warren Berry's friends, newspaper columnist Pete Hamill. He insisted that Moya, an Irish cousin of Hamill's, meet Warren at the Lion's Head, where Herald Tribune reporters had gathered the night the paper folded in 1966.

They married six months later. "He had a heart as big as the city. He just didn't have a mean bone, and he was funny and intelligent," Moya Berry said.

A Brooklyn native, Warren Berry went on to cover money and markets for Forbes and Newsday, where he became financial editor, once wrote a gossip column and helped produce many of the paper's special sections.

Robert Keane, a former Newsday managing editor, recalled Berry as an "exceptional newspaperman." He added: "Warren was the guy. He had done everything, been everywhere, knew everyone."

Though the advertising-driven sections Berry handled targeted events such as Father's Day, graduations and weddings, Keane said "you knew it was going to be a first-class product that readers would actually enjoy, advertising executives would be thrilled with, and the newsroom would never be embarrassed."

Once, Mancini recalled he put in for an hour and a half of overtime. Berry added the number one, making it a total of 11 and a half hours. "Now we can tell the tale," Mancini said, explaining this was an "advance" on hours he would later work without putting in for overtime.

Still, Mancini says, the generous gesture taught him a lot about leadership.

Berry, known for his trademark handlebar mustache, had an astonishing talent for making friends, Mancini said. "He knew everybody inside and outside the newsroom, from the printing press to people in the business side," he said.

Berry was a jovial fixture in the newsroom, said Les Payne, a former Newsday columnist and associate editor. "He was great for lifting spirits," he said.

Berry, whose award-winning career at the paper spanned from 1966 to 2006, covered the White House for the paper during the tumultuous Richard Nixon years.

"He was one of the people who helped transform Newsday from a suburban newspaper, which it was in the '50s, into a big-city paper," said Tony Marro, who worked with Berry on the White House beat and later as the paper's editor for 16 years.

Berry also embraced his North Shore community. A longtime coach of a local soccer team, he was known for making passionate speeches -- a cigarette in one hand, coffee cup in the other, said his son, Conor M. Berry, of Hampden, Mass.

Besides his wife and son, Berry is survived by a daughter, Kate Devlin Berry of Los Angeles; a brother, Francis, of Jupiter, Fla.; and a granddaughter, Claire. Another son, Timothy, a former Newsday marketing designer, died last year.

There will be a viewing Tuesday from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Nolan & Taylor-Howe Funeral Home, 5 Laurel Ave., Northport. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Roman Catholic Church in Centerport.

With Scott Eidler

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