Gretchen (Gay) Smart Berger

BergerGretchen (Gay) Smart Berger, 91, on January 6, 2021, with her children by her side, at Kendal on Hudson, a continuing care retirement community in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. Gay was born on September 1, 1929, in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. When she was two years old, Gay was separated from her older brother when their parents divorced. Her brother was raised by their father. Gay was sent to Waterville, Maine, to be raised by the loving family of her mother’s cousin, Frieda, and her husband, Sam. Gay’s mother, a fiercely independent nurse, died when Gay was 14. Gay was enrolled in a progressive boarding school, spent summers with her maternal aunt Gretchen, and eventually moved to New York City to live with her.

When Gay was a 20-year-old student at Brown University in Providence, R.I., she attended an American Friends Service Committee International Student Seminar in Massachusetts. There she met Horst Berger, a German citizen, who was studying in the United States. Four years later, Gay and Horst were married in Heidelberg. They became the parents of twins a few years later while living in Frankfurt. After a stint in Iran while Horst was working as an engineer, they moved to Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. There they added two additional children to their family.

While raising their four children, Gay returned to college. She received a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education in New York City. She co-founded Pretrial Release Services of Westchester, Inc., a nonprofit corporation that facilitated the release of criminal court clients who could not afford bail. She and Horst visited Germany frequently and traveled extensively.

Gay was a skilled knitter. Many of her friends and family continue to be kept warm by her intricate sweaters and afghans. She was a voracious reader, preferring murder mysteries, in which she always read the ending first as she didn’t like surprises. She was known for what was once described as her “insane laughter.” Her favorite color of paint, at least based on its name, was “Quaker Drab.”

Gay’s contributions to Scarsdale (N.Y.) Meeting, Purchase (N.Y.) Meeting, and the wider Quaker community were myriad. She clerked the Elsie K. Powell House Committee for several years; served on the American Friends Service Committee Board; was a Friend in Residence at Pendle Hill in Wallingford, Pa.; spent years on the Quaker United Nations Committee; and served on numerous yearly, quarterly, and monthly meeting committees.

When she realized that Horst did not want to retire away from the New York metropolitan area, Gay convened a committee of local Quakers to explore creating a Kendal Corporation community in Westchester County, N.Y. She worked for more than a decade to make this a reality. Gay was the first clerk of the Kendal on Hudson Board and became one of the leaders of their worship group. Gay believed in taking concrete actions for the good of the community.

Horst and Gay were heartbroken when their daughter Barbara predeceased them in 2011 at age 53. After Horst’s death in May 2019, Gay needed the extra care that was offered in Kendal’s assisted living unit.

Gay is survived by three children, Ralf Berger (Melissa), Susie Berger (Jonathan Landman), and Paul Berger; seven grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

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