From the purchase of the Arkansas Democrat through the newspaper war with the Arkansas Gazette and later the merger of the two Little Rock newspapers, Allen Berry was at the side of Walter E. Hussman Jr., making the financials work as WEHCO Media’s chief financial officer.
Berry, 72, died Wednesday in Germantown, Tenn., where he had moved with his wife, Cathy, after he retired from WEHCO Media, Inc. after 37 years.
“He was there all along,” Hussman, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, said Thursday about Berry, whom Hussman and his father hired in 1970. “He was a very trustworthy and loyal, dedicated man. He was dedicated not just to me, but really dedicated to the company and to the newspapers.
“He was a key reason for the success of our company,” Hussman said.
WEHCO Media owns the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and also operates other newspapers and cable companies in Arkansas and other states. The Democrat and the Gazette newspapers combined in October 1991 after the Gannett media group closed the Gazette and sold its assets to Little Rock Newspapers Inc., now Arkansas-Democrat Gazette, Inc., ending a long, bitter newspaper war.
“Any financial dealing Walter had, Allen was the man responsible for getting it right,” said Lynn Hamilton, president and general manager of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc. “When Gannett sold the Gazette’s assets, Allen was the key financial player. Also, when Walter bought the Chattanooga [Tenn.] newspaper and when he bought the Jefferson City, Mo. , newspaper. And not just for the newspapers, but for all of the cable TV companies and the many transactions involved with the cable companies.
“He was the man who always made sure we had enough cash flow to fight the newspaper war with the Gazette,” Hamilton said.
Hussman, who bought the Democrat in 1974, recalled Berry getting the company through some tough periods. For example, he said, WEHCO’s cable interests were upgrading their systems during a period when the prime interest rate rose to 21.5 percent, while at about the same time the Democrat was becoming more directly competitive with the locally owned Gazette. Gannett then bought the Gazette in late 1986.
“We went through a lot of trying times,” Hussman said. “He had to deal with that on the cable side and then come up with more funds for the newspaper to be competitive. It was a struggle to come up with enough money to compete. Our whole company was smaller than the Gazette. It was a challenge for Allen, but he was good and he made it all work.”
Hamilton recalled that Berry was the first person to greet him and show him around when Hamilton was hired in 1974 as WEHCO’s data processing manager. The two became close friends, Hamilton said, while working together in the corporate offices for eight years. Hamilton moved to the newspaper’s operation after that.
“He and I worked sideby-side setting up the computer systems in the ’70s and early ’80s,” recalled Hamilton, who will be a pallbearer for Berry’s funeral Monday. “We went to lunch together every day, five days a week, for the first eight years I worked there.”
Berry graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1966 with a bachelor of science in business administration and continued to earn his master’s degree in business administration there in 1968. Outside of his financial career, Berry served on the board of directors for the Heifer Foundation and was a Meals on Wheels volunteer.
Berry played tennis until he developed knee problems, Hamilton said. He became an avid bicyclist, joining the Arkansas Bicycle Club, and rode in the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.
“I can testify to that,” Ray Gash, a friend since college, said of Berry’s cycling enthusiasm. “We spent most of our social time bicycling.”
Gash, a college accounting classmate, said he still talked to Berry every two or three weeks, with their last conversation coming just a week ago. Gash worked as a certified public accountant for Stephens Inc. in Little Rock and was the liaison between Stephens and the former Donrey Media Group, creating a career connection with Berry as well.
“It was amazing how our lives have paralleled,” said Gash, who is also to be a pallbearer. “If you ever wanted to meet the nicest guy in the world, that was Allen Berry. He had such quality and was such a fine, fine individual. You could not find a greater individual. It’s going to be a great loss.”