The Special Olympics universe lost one of its brightest stars this week. Paul Berman, founder of the Special Olympics-Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes program and a chief architect of the overall health platform within the movement, passed away Sunday.
This loss reverberates throughout the extended Special Olympics family worldwide. Paul was loved and respected by so many of us for his warmth – he always wore a gregarious smile; his passionate dedication – there was nothing he wouldn’t do for his patients, especially the tens of thousands of Special Olympics athletes he held dear; and his knowledge – few people understand the health needs of people with intellectual disabilities as well as Paul did.
Paul was our teacher. Decades ago, before there was a program called Healthy Athletes, Paul was among the first to stress the urgency of the health challenges faces by our athletes and convince others that it was an issue that Special Olympics could and NEEDED to address. His energy was boundless as he spent hours talking about and planning an intervention that would later blossom to become the largest public health initiative for people with intellectual disabilities. This was Paul’s vision, and it was his endless efforts that made it a reality.
Paul was our trailblazer. He forged ahead with his vision in the early days despite the lack of budget and other resources to provide health services within Special Olympics. He spent his own money to bring volunteers together, developed a compassionate and effective method for vision screenings for people with intellectual disabilities and used his contacts with Lions Clubs to garner attention and resources to this issue so close to his heart. Despite the uncertain future for integrating health into Special Olympics, he pushed on in the knowledge that it was the right thing to do.
Paul was our friend. It was Paul’s love of people that was at the core of all he did. Whether it was to stop and have a bagel with a friend, offer advice to a partner, or teach young doctors about what they could do to be better at patient care, Paul’s affection came through. Paul relished the mentor role. Paul’s clear vision of what should be was the inspiration to his colleagues and friends to bring his vision into reality.
Paul’s contributions to the Special Olympics movement and people with intellectual disabilities cannot be measured. The lives he touched were never the same afterwards, and the gift of sight that he brought to so many athletes was so awe-inspiring that many have followed in his footsteps and worked to help our athletes have greater vision and better lives. This loss will be felt for years to come, but in his memory we will also carry on and continue the work for which he had such fervor.
The Special Olympics movement offers our most sincere and heartfelt condolences to Diane, his wife, and his children, grandchildren and other members of his family. Our community is here for them in their time of need, just as Paul was there for us so many times.
Paul was larger than life, and we will ensure that his life’s work will continue on.
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My name is Elaina, I just learned of Dr. Berman’s passing tonight from my sister. I had been a patient of his for many, many years since moving to Bergen County in 1975 with my parents and my daughter who is now 25 years old has been a patient of his since she was a little girl. I am deeply saddened to learn of his passing and my condolences go out to his natural family, his work family and his peers. I tell you, for the longest time I was his patient and I NEVER REALIZED what a great man he was until one day I was in the office many, many years ago waiting to be seen (when he was at 5 Prospect Avenue in Hackensack) and I began looking around at some of the memorabilia. I am sometimes “tunnel-visioned”, no visual impairment implied, and I never really checked out the walls. I was so awed to realize that my eye doctor had so much going on outside of his office. There was a letter on the wall written by a woman who was visually impaired and had received a pair of glasses from one of his special programs that provided eye glasses to those who could not afford them. In her letter she stated how grateful she was to Dr. Paul Berman and that because of the glasses she was now able to perform simple activities of daily living and have greater freedom and independence. I just loved Dr. Berman. He was humble, kind and patient and I will greatly miss him.
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I just learned of Paul’s passing and am shaken to tears and feel numb… I was involved in the SOLCIOE program from 2000-2005. He encouraged me to become a Clinical Director and begin a program in NYC. I trained at the World Games in Alaska and his enthusiasm, energy, sincerity and passion were contagious and I was in awe of his leadership ability to rally us into this awesome awesome program. My experience as a clinical director has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my career and I had discontinued after I was married, moved and started a family. Now that my children are older… I am ready to get back into this great legacy he has left behind… I feel so grateful to have been mentored by Paul and for being able to call him my friend. He is truly larger than life and has touched so many lives throughout the world… My sincere condolences to his family, all my thoughts and prayers go out to you.
November 21, 2013
Exceptional people do exceptional things. Paul Berman epitomized exceptionality.
He highlighted and advanced the vision care of individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID) as no other before him. Paul’s advocacy for the overall health care issues of individuals with ID galvanized Special Olympics’ Healthy Athletes Program from its very outset, benefitting all SO programs addressing the sensory and physical needs of these athletes. His vivacious personality was infectious at SO social gatherings, many of which he initiated in the midst of intense health screening programs. Paul knew that bringing all of us together socially was not just to “party”, but to engender comradery and cooperation beneficial to the goal of serving SO athletes.
Paul, along with Drs. Robert Cook and Steve Pearlman, at a 1998 meeting of the SO Medical Advisory Board, encouraged me to “step up “ and create the Healthy Hearing Program. Their vision of SO athletes’ health needs was exceptional and infectious, and modeled for me what professional care can be accomplished on behalf of these health vulnerable individuals. Paul was a constant and generous model of exceptionality for me throughout my tenure as Senior Global Advisor for Healthy Hearing.
May Paul’s memory be a blessing.
Gilbert R. Herer, PhD., CCC-A/SLP
Director Emeritus, Children’s Hearing & Speech Center
Children’s National Medical Center
Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics
George Washington University
Emeritus Senior Global Advisor
Special Olympics Healthy Hearing Program
In 1999 I met Paul Berman when we started up Opening Eyes Netherlands.
During a three day trip, together with Onno Rueck, we achieved a lot.
At SOLCIOE events was Paul with his team; work hard, play hard.
“No problems, we only have opportunities”. Everything is possible!
Paul is the most inspiring person I have ever met.
His mission for SOLCIOE changed many lives; the athletes who got the eye care they needed and the optometrists who where trained and got the Special Olympics Opening Eyes spirit.
This spirit, which changes your view on life, was taken home by the optometrists and used in their own practice and life.
Paul’s legacy is enormous and will be long remembered.
My condolences to Diane, his wife, his family and all SOLCIOE friends.
Thank you, Paul for knowing you
Eva van ‘t Schip- Kuijs former Special Olympics Opening Eyes the Netherlands
I’m very sorry to hear about the passing of Dr. Paul Berman, who I was so lucky to meet in various ocassions. A person with great humility and always willing to support SO Argentina athletes in what ever was asked of him. We will miss him very much. Regards to his family from everyone in SO Argentina.
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I count myself lucky to have had Paul as a colleague, friend, and co-worker in the Healthy Athletes Program. His energy, compassion and skill was and is inspiration to all those he touched. Each enterprise has the need for time , talent, and treasure. Paul Berman gave all three beyond measure. He set the bar high and we all strive to reach it. We are all grateful for his legacy and must continue to serve our courageous athletes.
Mark Wagner, D.M.D.
I am deeply saddened by the loss we all share. I am assured that we will be comforted by our memories and our love which is very much alive. My condolences to his family and friends.
I hereby convey my most sincere condolences to his family Mr. Paul Berman, in this time of great pain.
I also take the opportunity to praise the human person, it was, especially for helping to implement the “Opening Eyes”, helping thousands of young people around the world to have a better quality of life.
Mr. Paul Berman, thanks for everything,
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He was a really the greatest teacher and mentor for me.
I can’t forget him for his unmeasurable contributions for the successful ending of the 2013 SO Pyeong Chang World Winter Game, Korea in the field of Healthy Athletes Program..
Many thanks to Dr. Berman and praying for keeping peace in the paradise.
My condolescence to his family and freinds of all Special Olympics in the World.
Kyung Hwan Shin, Seoul, Korea
from petra bridgemohan Opening eyes clinical director Trinidad & Tobago
I am so shocked and saddened at this loss …
WE have lost a global visionary . Paul’s energy transformed many visual societies such as mine in small island of Trinidad & Tobago .He allowed the Opening eyes training protocol to be used as a template when our govt was establishing a training protocol for vision screeners in our schools .The programmes delivery is testimony to his support even at long distances.. ….
God speed and God blessings for his good karma..
Gone but not forgotten paul B
Had the pleasure of meeting Paul in Korea this year. Loved his Special Olympics, nice fellow & a “great giver”. Our condolences to family, friends & family of Special Olympics. Paul Mahon & Dr Kerrie Punshon in Australia.
I only met Paul a few times but each time I was reminded that he was, indeed, a lovely man. One who always thought of others before himself and who gave of himself with generosity and love. All of us at Special Olympics, but particularly our athletes, will feel his loss acutely. My condolensces and sympathy to his family and friends.
Paul was a wonderful mentor for me in the world of Special Olympics & Healthy Athletes. I will miss his joyful nature and sound counsel. Sincere condolences to Diane and the rest of his family.
As we all struggle to cope with this loss in our lives, Paul would say, “Wishing you only the best!” as he journeys onward and upward! Godspeed!
Heaven has a new Angel! God Speed Paul. ❤ ❤ ❤
I great friend and mentor and supporter for so many project. Many thanks Walter
We had the great honor to work with Paul in China and East Asia during our 7 years as part of the SOEA staff. He was a trailblazer and has left an enduring legacy in this region and around the world! George & Trish Smith
I feel so lucky to have know this wonderful man and to have had the opportunity to work by his side at a number of Lions International events with his brilliant OPENING EYES program. As the Charter President of the Bay Area Special Olympics Lions Club, I am dedicated to bringing his program to our club and to Northern California if it’s the last thing I do. It’s the least I can do to pay tribute to this wonderful, larger than life angel. RIP Lion Paul Berman.