Gerald Berreman, a UC Berkeley professor emeritus of anthropology known for his extensive work on social inequality in South Asia, died Dec. 23 after a long struggle with dementia. He was 83.
Berreman joined the campus department of anthropology in 1959 and remained there until his retirement in 2001, according to an obituary released by his family. During his time on campus, Berreman was involved in many political movements, such as the anti-war campaign of the Vietnam era and the anti-apartheid movement of 1960s.
Known as “Gerry” to friends and family members, Berreman is remembered not only for his dedication to anthropology and political activism but also for his incredible humor and approachability.
“No matter how difficult some of the topics he would be dealing with were, you’d leave his office laughing,” said anthropology professor Nancy Scheper-Hughes. “He had a large following of students.”
Keiko Yamanaka, Berreman’s wife and a lecturer in UC Berkeley’s department of ethnic studies, described him as “kind” and “open.”
The two met by chance while attending a 1990 meeting for the Association of Asian Studies in New Orleans. Having both been late in booking a place at the hotel where the meeting was being held, they ended up staying at a small hotel in the periphery of the city, where they bumped into each other during brunch.
“I was reading the program, and he decided to gather his cards to talk to me,” Yamanaka said. “By the end of the walk to the major hotel (where the conference was held), he asked if we could go out.” They were married in 1993.
Berreman was previously married to Evelyn Marsh Berreman in 1952, and they had three children before they divorced.
“Through all the changes and configurations of our family, I always felt like he was there for his children,” said Janet Berreman, one of his daughters. “He was a very loving father — he took great pride in all three of his children and in his grandchildren and their successes.”
Berreman’s research focused on issues surrounding the environment and development in the Himalayan regions of India and Nepal. For about 40 years, he studied issues of caste, gender, class and environment in their historical contexts in the Indian region of Garhwal and the city of Dehradun.
He also received honorary degrees from both the University of Stockholm in Sweden and Garhwal University in India, where he was a guest lecturer.
“(He) really broadened our world in ways that impact our lives every day,” Janet Berreman said. “He provided me with so many experiences that were enriching.”
Berreman is survived by his wife; his three children, Janet Berreman, Lynn Holzman and Wayne Berreman; his brother, Dwight Berreman; eight grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
A memorial service for Berreman, sponsored by the anthropology department, will be held on campus sometime between mid-March and mid-April.