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Devoted volunteer will be missed

The world lost a good man — and I lost a good friend — Friday when Gary Berger died from complications from COPD.

He will be missed greatly by a great many people — some of whom may never have actually met him.

His work and actions touched most aspects of life in his beloved town. He worked and volunteered at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, served on the library’s board of directors, helped establish the volunteer and Neighborhood Watch programs for the police department and provided regular updates on emergency services on social media sites.

Gary had a gruff exterior and always had a joke at hand. It was often difficult to tell when he was being serious — about anything. But he took life and helping others very seriously.

The reality is Gary was nothing more than a teddy bear in disguise. He was genuine, caring and would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.

He had been recognized more than once for saving people’s lives and for volunteering countless hours to the communities he called home.

Gary devoted at least 35 years of his life to working and volunteering with emergency service providers. He didn’t keep track of how many lives he helped save. To him, it was just another day, just what he did.

In 2017, after Gary was presented with the prestigious arrowhead Life Saving Award from the National Park Service for his efforts helping a swimmer in distress at Lake Mead, he said he was just in the right place and the right time. He said he wasn’t anyone special.

Others would surely disagree. Officials said without the efforts by him and other volunteers on his patrol boat, the man they saved surely would have perished along with his friend, who sunk below the water’s surface before they were able to get on scene.

He did the same kind of things in Southern California before moving to Boulder City, volunteering with the American Red Cross, teaching emergency medicine and CPR. He also managed emergency services for major events in Los Angeles.

Gary’s love for the community extended into everything he did. He served two full four-year terms on the board of directors at the Boulder City Library, as well as completing two years of Roger Tobler’s term when he became mayor in 2007.

When it came time for him to step down, he told me he would continue serving if he could.

It wasn’t always easy and the board had to make some tough decisions surrounding the controversial resignation of the former library director. But as with everything he did, Gary acted with professionalism and put the interests of the community first.

He seemed indefatigable and didn’t let anything get in the way of what he felt needed to be done. Not even his COPD.

The last time I saw him was in June when the city’s police and fire departments presented awards to outstanding officers, firefighters and volunteers. He was given a special commendation for serving as the “face” of the department’s volunteer program, to which he devoted more than 100 hours a month. He also was recognized for training and mentoring other volunteers.

Because of COVID-19, it had been a while since we were able to meet in person and I was surprised to see him carrying and using a portable oxygen machine.

As with everything else, he just took it in stride and brushed it off as no big deal, accepting the realities of being a smoker for 30 years.

At his funeral Tuesday, you could see that what he did was a big deal to his family and friends, how his actions touched so many. His legacy will live on.

Hali Bernstein Saylor is editor of the Boulder City Review. She can be reached at hsaylor@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9523. Follow @HalisComment on Twitter.

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