Los Altos resident Dr. Frank Berry celebrated his 100th birthday Oct. 2. Actually, the festivities spanned more than one day, with multiple parties in his honor. He even received a lifetime membership to Los Altos Golf & Country Club, where he has been a member since 1956 – playing golf, tennis and bridge.
An ophthalmologist in Mountain View and Los Altos from 1953 until his retirement in 1985, Berry was one of the founding doctors on Altos Oaks Drive and was instrumental in the creation of El Camino Hospital.
Born in Worcester, Mass., in 1919, Berry graduated from (College of the) Holy Cross and then Tufts Medical School in 1944. According to a 2014 interview with Marcia Adams for the Los Altos History Museum’s Oral History Project, Berry enrolled in the Army Student Training Program at the end of his freshman year at Tufts. Following medical school and a nine-month internship in Worcester, Berry began his military service and was assigned to a number of different hospitals.
He met his first wife, Jean, who was a nurse, during his first Army assignment at Barnes General Hospital at Vancouver Barracks, Wash. They married in 1945.
When his father was dying, he returned to Milford, Mass., with Jean and the first of the four children they would eventually have, and went into general
California, here I come
The family settled in Los Altos in 1953, at first drawn to the area for its proximity to Stanford University. In addition to working as an eye surgeon, Berry became an associate clinical professor at Stanford Medical School.
He also was attracted to the region’s natural beauty.
“When I was practicing in 1953, this whole area was pristine,” he recalled. “It was ‘Blossom Valley.’ They had bus tours bringing in tourists to show them the blooms from the apricot and cherry trees. … With Silicon Valley, we gained a lot, but frankly, I’d take the old Blossom Valley any day – it was wonderful.”
The Palo Alto hospital was overcrowded in the 1950s – to the point “where they were putting people in the halls,” he said. So a medical advisory committee was formed, with Berry as chairman. Members conducted surveys and gathered information. In 1956, they held a meeting to which they invited doctors, local city officials and business people and presented their ideas for a new hospital district.
“Everybody got behind it, and it passed by an overwhelming margin, something like 75% – I mean, unheard of,” he said. “Then, when the district was formed, they got the administrator, Ed Hawkins, who was a fantastic guy. … I like to call it a perfect storm, because everything came together.”
El Camino Hospital opened in 1961.
Berry was also one of the founding practitioners on Altos Oaks Drive in 1959. At the time, it was innovative to cluster a number of different specialists in one location, he said in his interview with Adams. Beginning his local practice in Mountain View in 1953, “in 1959, we moved our offices to our own building on Altos Oaks Drive in Los Altos,” he said.
“Our practice, in ophthalmology, is the longest medical practice existing in Los Altos. … The practice has been in existence for 66 years,” he said. “Fortunately, the people that succeeded were fantastic. David Chang is an internationally known cataract surgeon.”
Berry retired in 1985, when Jean was in late stages of breast cancer. Although no longer practicing medicine, he continued teaching part time at Stanford Medical School for several years.
He is wistful about the doctor-patient relationship of days gone by.
“Medical practice was a heck of a lot different for us,” he said. “It’s hard to generalize, but we had more personal contact with the patients – there wasn’t the rush that there is (now) when you go in and everything is on time and you’re in and you’re out.”
Berry met his second wife, Liz Dunn, while on a trip to London. They were married in 1990 and enjoyed 20 years together, until she died in 2011.
Life at 100
Berry joined forces with his third wife, Nora Buys, approximately seven years ago.
The couple are avid players of duplicate bridge at Los Altos Golf & Country Club and social bridge a couple of other afternoons each week.
Berry also is involved in the stock market; he said he spends “two to three hours each morning reading or thinking about it.”
He misses the tennis he had to give up at age 96, but he continues to get out for walks.
“I feel they’re mandatory, but it takes a lot,” he said.
Still living in the house he moved into in 1956, Berry’s property includes approximately a half-acre vineyard of Chardonnay grapes, run by a management company.
“Funny thing about that,” he said. “It was early on when Liz and I got married. Liz liked Chardonnay, so I put in Chardonnay. Then she decided she liked Pinot Grigio better than Chardonnay – but it was too late!”
He added with a laugh: “Nora and I don’t drink a heck of a lot of wine – we drink bourbon and gin! We have a pretty good life.”