Politicians typically are outgoing, often enthusiastic people happy to work a crowd offering a warm smile with a wave and handshake for all.
Elected five times as Hardin County’s judge-executive, Harry Berry is a self-described introvert.
He discovered he enjoys the door-to-door retail campaigning necessary in local elections. And with a firm grip on his beliefs plus illustrations and details to explain them, he also is a capable public speaker. But Berry isn’t fond of the limelight that comes with his role.
Berry’s ability to win and retain his office relies on his devotion to the work, his resolve to stay on course plus the good fortune of timing that coincided with a community leaning toward conservative precepts.
Unlike other candidates, he didn’t rely on lifelong friendships or deep community roots to undergird his candidacy. A former U.S. Army engineer, he and his wife, Jill, picked Hardin County as their retirement home through the same analytical process familiar to those who have watched his 17-year process as the county’s chief executive.
Often assigned to duties in the Washington, D.C., area, they wanted out of a congested city environment but were interested in staying near enough to access some of the amenities of that life. They also wanted access to services afforded at military installations and to raise their daughter near family – Jill’s parents are in Hopkins County.
Although their familiarity with Hardin County basically was limited to passing through on the parkway, they settled on Elizabethtown after considering multiple options around St. Louis, Nashville and Louisville.
That decision, based solely on family desires, has changed the course of this community.
Berry recently announced his decision to step aside after this four-year term closes. Again, he chose to step outside the norm by making the announcement with three years left to serve.
He said he’s committed to working just as diligently on the way out as he did when first selected by local voters. Based on his track record, there’s no reason to question that statement.
Berry also said he has no concern about accepting a three-year lame duck status because of his established relationship with county staff, Hardin Fiscal Court and other community leaders.
It’s now obvious he also made an early announcement in order to clear a path for Daniel London, the deputy judge-executive he hired, who has an interest in being his successor.
On the verge of publicly announcing his candidacy, London has Berry’s support. In his characteristic straight-forward manner, Berry didn’t want to be coy with voters and dance around his own plans while privately rooting for London.
At the completion of this term, Berry will have served 20 years. That’s equal to the time R.R. “Babe” Thomas spent in the job and second only to H.B. Fife’s 24-year tenure. Like those forerunners, his impact will be felt for years to come.
Berry’s accomplishments, which likely will grow over the next three years, include putting the county on solid financial footing, creating a professional, business-like approach to hiring and operations, improving emergency services and 911, modernized technology and equipment, establishing community recycling and related program such as e-scrap, upgrade governmental facilities ranging from the landfill and road department to relocating county government offices to a modern, four-story complex more centrally located.
Perhaps his largest achievements and certainly most time consuming have come with his role as chairman of Hardin Memorial Health.
The hospital and its 50 or so related facilities throughout the region have seen extraordinary growth through following a specific business plan directed at improving patient outcomes and experiences. In that period, Berry twice was recognized with the Health Care Governance Leadership Award by the Kentucky Hospital Association.
Berry will be quick to tell you none of these accomplishments are his alone. He’s worked with advocates and opponents to find solutions.
He’s also struggled and at times failed. He has disappointments in his job such as any of us might. But he’s contributed in ways beyond what most of us ever will.
As his adopted home, Hardin County owes a debt of thanks to Harry Berry. In this long farewell from office, he’ll likely be thrust into that spotlight, which makes him feel uncomfortable, as others express their appreciation.
This editorial reflects a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.