In Memory: Robert Marion Berry

Marion-Berry seated at the desk in his Congressional office, 2009
Marion Berry
May 22, 2023
USA Rice was saddened to learn of the passing of legendary Arkansas legislator Marion Berry last week.  The Democratic congressman who represented the Arkansas 1st Congressional District for seven terms — from January 1997 until January 2011 — died Friday in Little Rock at the age of 80 following a long illness.

In 1994, prior to running for Congress, Berry worked in the Clinton Administration as special assistant for agricultural trade and food assistance.  During his tenure in Congress, Berry served on the House Committee on Appropriations and was a member of the House Budget Committee.

A native of Stuttgart, Arkansas, Berry graduated from the University of Arkansas School of Medical Science and became a pharmacist in Little Rock before returning to his home farm near Gillett, where he grew rice, soybeans, corn, and wheat.

“Marion Berry was a rice farmer at heart,” said Ben Noble, executive vice president at Riceland Foods in Stuttgart who knew and worked with the former Congressman and was a cousin of Berry’s.  “While he did his best to represent the entire first Congressional District of Arkansas, something that drove him every day was ‘how can I help rice farmers do better tomorrow than they did today?’”

Noble reflected on Berry’s role for Arkansas agriculture both in Congress and in the Clinton Administration.

“Whether in the executive or legislative branch, Marion had a seat at the table from the Freedom to Farm days,” Noble said.  “He helped shape multiple Farm Bills and agriculture policy over his long career.”

Berry drew praise from both sides of the aisle with former Democrat Governor Mike Beebe saying that Berry “worked hard every day for the people he represented,” and former Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson remarking that Berry was “fully devoted to serving the 1st Congressional District during his years in Congress.  You never knew what Marion would say on the House floor but he always spoke with passion and humor.” And current Republican Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Berry’s “mix of homespun wisdom and hard-won political knowledge always made him a formidable representative.”
Berry is survived by his wife of 60 years, Carolyn Lowe Berry, daughter Ann Coggin, son Mitch Berry, four grandchildren, and a great-grandson.

A memorial service will be held on June 24, at 1 p.m., at the Gillett Methodist Church.  The family suggests memorial contributions to DeWitt City Hospital Auxiliary, PO Box 32, DeWitt AR 72042; UAMS Auxiliary Patient Support Fund at WPRCI Auxiliary Patient Support, 4301 W. Markham #721-1, Little Rock AR 72205; or Gillett Methodist Church, PO Box 88, Gillett AR 72055.