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William Aylor Berry

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William Aylor Berry, December 28, 1915 to June 16, 2004. Judge William Aylor Berry, age 88, died on June 16, 2004. Born in Ripley, Oklahoma he held degrees from Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma. He retired after a career of public service in the Oklahoma judicial system, with three terms on the Supreme Court of Oklahoma. His early career began with a private law practice in Stillwater and he served as Payne County Attorney. His career was interrupted when he entered Naval Intelligence as an ensign. During World War II he was captured by the Japanese Army at Corregidor and was a prisoner of war for 33 months. Liberated by American forces from Bilibid Prison in 1945, he terminated his service with the rank of lieutenant commander. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, two Presidential Unit Citations and two Battle Stars including a Philippine Defense Citation. He returned to Stillwater and private practice in 1947 and was appointed assistant district attorney for the western district of the state, a post he resigned in 1950 to campaign unsuccessfully for Congress. Moving to Oklahoma City he began private practice and was appointed County Judge, Division Two, of Oklahoma County, a new office created by the Legislature, he was assigned all juvenile cases and other duties coming before the county court. While serving in this position, he realized a dream of building a juvenile detention home which was finished and dedicated in 1959. Oklahoma County Commissioners voted to name it Berry House, years later becoming the Juvenile Justice Center. He won nomination and election to the Supreme Court in 1958 for a six year term and was reelected for a second and third term where he served as Vice Chief Justice and Chief Justice before retiring as an Associate Justice. He was recognized for outstanding service by the Oklahoma Judicial Conference, Oklahoma County Bar Association and the Oklahoma Legislature. He was a member of the American, state and county bar associations and the American Judicature Society. He was a past member of the Conference of Chief Justices and was the representative on the National State Courts Center. He was a member of the American Legion where he served as commander and department junior vice commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He was National Commander of American Ex Prisoners of War and a member of the Disabled American Veterans. Before going on the bench he was very active in civic affairs including the Chamber of Commerce, United Appeal, serving as a director of the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. He was an initial organizer of the Oklahoma Big Brothers and he also served as Chairman of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. After retiring from the Court he returned to private law practice and the family oil and gas business, the Thomas N. Berry Company, Stillwater, Oklahoma, where he served for many years as a director and was elected President and Chairman of the Board. He was the author of two books. Prisoner of the Rising Sun and Justice for Sale, detailing his experiences as a prisoner of war and as a Justice on the Supreme Court. Judge Berry was one of eight children and is survived by one brother, Jack D. Berry of Grand Junction, Colorado, his wife, Carolyn, daughter Elizabeth Payne and son, Nichols B. Berry. He had five grandchildren, Mary and Matthew Payne and William Bennett, Jon and Morgan Berry. He was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints of Oklahoma City. The family requests that memorials be made to Big Brothers of OKC, 4101 Perimeter Center Dr, Ste 235,Oklahoma City, OK 73112-2315 or to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, 825 NE 13th Street, Oklahoma City, OK 73104. Funeral services will be 3:00 p.m. Friday, June 18th at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 5020 NW 63rd St., Oklahoma City.
Published in The Oklahoman from June 17 to June 18, 2004
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