Obituaries and Biographical
Information about Max

This section presents published obituaries as well as a collection of biographical information, as remembered by friends and family and recorded by him.

Obituaries include those published by:

An editorial from the Northport Sun-Herald is also included.

Biographical information in this section of the site includes the following:


Memorial Services

Obituaries and Biographical Info

Max's Writings

Max's Favorite
Causes and Music

Memories in Text

Memories in Images

New York Times Obituary

Saturday, September 27, 1997
"Max Berking, 80, Executive and Democratic Leader, Dies"
By Anthony Ramirez

Max Berking, an advertising executive who became an influential figure in Westchester County Democratic politics, died on Wednesday at the home of his daughter, Charlotte Berking Zanecchia, in Alford, Mass. He was 80 and had lived in Northport, Fla, since his retirement in 1982.

The cause of his death was lung cancer, Mrs. Zanecchia said.

Mr. Berking spent much of his advertising career at his Manhattan firm, Max Berking, Inc., which was sold in 1981. One career highlight was a promotion for Red Devil Tools that ran in Life magazine in the mid-1950's, family members said.

But his extracurricular love was politics, specifically the uphill struggle of the Democratic Party in the heavily Republican precincts of Westchester County. "He was indefatigable," said John Carey, mayor of Rye from 1973 to 1981. "When I was running for re-election to the Rye City Council in 1967, we were up way past midnight making calls and I wanted to go home. Max just smiled at me and said, 'All the greatest political achievements in history were achieved after midnight.'"

In 1964, in the Democratic landslide led by President Johnson, Mr. Berking won his one and only elective office, filling the remaining year of a four-year term* as state senator for eastern Westchester. A year later, however, he was defeated in the predominantly Republican district. He also ran for Westchester County executive in 1969, but lost.

From then on, his role was as a party leader and unabashed lobbyist for liberal causes. In 1971, he was unanimously elected by the party's executive committee as Westchester County Democratic chairman and served until 1975. He was a longtime lobbyist for environmental groups, and from 1977 to 1986 he was consultant to the Legislative Committee on Energy Systems, which promoted energy conservation.

Even after retiring to Florida, he relished politics. He wrote a regular political column for The Northport Sun-Herald and had framed a letter to the editor, commenting on his column, that said, "Max Berking is just too liberal to be believed." Friends say he would just beam when pointing out the letter.

Mr. Berking, who grew up in Greenwich, Conn. had a longtime concern for justice for the poor. College friends say classes at Williams College taught by Fred Schumann, R.R.R. Brooks and especially Max Lerner, the essayist and professor of government, had a profound influence on Mr. Berking, who graduated from Williams in 1939.

"We were suburban kids," said Harry N. Gottlieb, a classmate of Mr. Berking at Williams. "Those professors opened our eyes to what was going on in the world."

Mr Berking's first wife, the former Dorothy Noyes, died in 1962, and he was separated from his second wife, Frances Bauman Berking, of Northport, Fla.

Besides his daughter, Mr. Berking is survived by three sons, Charles, of Boxford, Mass.; Peter, of Vienna, Va.; and Laurence, of Rochester, NY.

*Note from Max's family: This is incorrect. He was elected to a normal two year term, which was cut short to one year because of a Senate district reapportionment initiative (for reasons of racial balancing) requiring an election after only one year. The Republican majority at the time used this opportunity to diminish his chances of reelection by allocating heavily Republican areas to his district.

Northport Sun-Herald Obituary

September 26, 1997
"Max Berking Dies at 80 - Columnist Was Active in Politics, Environmental Issues"
by Elaine Allen

Readers of the Northport Sun Herald didn't have to agree with his every word, but certainly looked forward to reading his weekly column for years.

Max Berking, who was a long-time Northport resident, died at 80 Wednesday at the home of his daughter, Charlotte, in Alford, Mass.

Berking was born in New York City July 27, 1917, and grew up in Greenwich, Conn., where he attended the Brunswick School.

Berking was well-known in Northport. He and his friend Karen Comer often spent time together.

"Max and I were very good friends," Comer said. "He helped make me the Democrat I am today. He was the one who encouraged me to run (for state representative). I'm going to run again and win for him."

Comer said Berking was not just a devoted politician and environmentalist, but a friendly, warm gentleman.

"Max not only adored his 10 grandchildren, but he treated my children like they were his own," she said. "He started a reading Olympics program with them. He paid them a nickel a book, and it went up every year. He was just a sweet man."

Northport City Commissioner Joe Fink remembers Berking as a political mentor.

"Max was one the nicest, most genuine people I have ever known," Fink said. "He was always for the other person. He was a political mentor. Although we didn't always agree on everything politically, we've always remained friends. He was a sounding board for me. I could always look to him for a truthful response. You bet he will be sorely missed."

Another Northport friend, Rita Moore, said Berking was a fascinating man.

"Max and I shared mutual interests," said Moore. "I'm political and he was political. I found him to be a fascinating person. He was a Democrat and so am I. I enjoyed the conversations we had together. He was an extremely fascinating guy."

His maternal grandfather had been a Republican state senator in Connecticut. His father, Max Berking, Sr., was a graduate of Williams College and a founder of the Williams Club in Manhattan. Berking graduated from the college in 1939, where he majored in politics and government. He attended the University of Arizona Business School.

Berking moved to Westchester, N.Y., in 1952, where he is best known for his involvement in political causes and the Democratic party. He was elected to the New York Senate in 1964 as the first Democrat to represent eastern Westchester in 52 years.

Endorsed by the New York Times as a "dynamic, energetic innovator", he went on to become chairman of the Rye City Democratic Party in the early 1960's and led the Democratic County Committee from 1971 to 1975.

Berking once took an unsalaried job as a Democratic Party Chairman of Westchester County, N.Y. When asked why he would work for free, he replied, "Politics is in my blood. It's my hobby and consuming interest. I'll be doing it anyway, so, it will be more fun to have some leverage."

Berking was a founder the first lobbyist in Albany for the Environmental Planning Lobby. Governor Hugh Carey appointed him a member of the Board of Trustees of the Purchase campus of the State University of New York (SUNY) in 1977.

From 1977 until 1986, he served as legislative director and consultant to the Legislative Commission on Energy Systems, where he helped draft much of the state's energy laws. He co-authored a book with Alan Chartok of Great Barrington, Ma. on legislative reorganization in Wisconsin, published by Rutgers University Press in 1970.

Berking spent 43 years in the advertising business, most of it as the head of his own industrial advertising agency in New York City. Berking's first wife, Dorothy Noyes, died in 1962. He received the Westchester Father of the Year award in 1964.

After his retirement in 1982, he moved to Northport. Berking loved to canoe along the Myakkahatchee Creek, and often got involved in environmental and health care issues at the state level. He was involved in the local Democratic party and visited Warm Mineral Springs spa frequently. He wrote for the Sun Herald for many years.

He is survived by his four children Charles Berking of Boxford, Mass.; Peter Berking of Vienna, Va.; Laurence Berking of Rochester, N.Y.; and Charlotte Zanecchia-Berking of Alford, Mass.; 10 grandchildren and second wife Frances Bauman Berking of Northport.

Northport Sun-Herald Editorial

Friday, September 26, 1997
by Marshall Grove, Northport Sun Herald Editor

He was a man who didn't need a sword for his crusades, for he wielded a mightier weapon.

Max Berking used his pen to crusade for the poor, the underprivileged, and the environment.

Human rights was his issue, and it mattered not if it was abuse in Northport, Tallahassee, Washington, D.C., Bangkok, or Tokyo.

He ruffled a lot of feathers. Readers would sometimes cancel subscriptions and poison pen letters were not uncommon.

His commentaries also struck a lot of nerves and he received mail and congratulations for his stands on issues from such dignitaries as Attorney General Janet Reno.

He never heard from President Clinton, but then Max was a Democrat's Democrat, and he wasn't always sure the president deserved even the first label.

He was not a friend of developers and fought a losing battle to save Duck Key, the island at the end of Pan American Boulevard, from the builders. He was one of the leaders in the fight to stop the annexation of Warm Mineral Springs Spa, fearing that it would be lost to the average individual if developed. He won that war.

I didn't often agree with Max. But I enjoyed our give and take. It was a pleasure to discuss an issue with someone who would listen to your point of view, counter with his, and never lose his friendly composure.

In short, he was a gentleman, as well as a scholarly individual. His always cheerful attitude made him a popular visitor in our office. Even when his health began failing, his smile never failed and his devotion to his causes never weakened.

One subject was taboo. He was a private person and didn't like to talk about himself, nor even to include on the tag line of his columns that he was a former state senator in New York.

I've learned more about Max, the private individual, in the two days since his death than in the four years I knew him, from talking to his family.

I particularly enjoyed a comment from his wife, Frances. "I married Max," she said, "and he married the Democratic Party."

It wasn't a derogatory statement, but rather an affirmation of his devotion to human rights causes.

She also said he would have been upset to read in our Thursday story that he loved to canoe throughout the area.

"He didn't canoe," she said. "He did the stroke."

In college, he was the "stroker" on a rowing team, the one who set the pace for the rest of the crew. She said that's how he described his recreational/exercise sojourns on the quiet waters of the Myakkahatchee.

She also said he played football for Williams College, something that was difficult to imagine with his passion for politics.

His son Charles Berking, also said Thursday that he was a big jazz buff. So much so, he said, that he was featured on radio talk shows for jazz fans.

Sarasota Herald-Tribune Obituary

September 26, 1997
"Crusades Were the Love of His Life - Max Berking, a politician, environmentalist and author, dies of cancer at the age of 80."
By Tabatha Barham

When Max Berking, a former New York legislator, retired and moved to Florida in 1982, he didn't just spend his time relaxing and enjoying the sun.

The politician, environmentalist, author and rowing enthusiast spent his years in North Port involved in many crusades.

"He was probably the most unselfish person human being I have ever known in my life," said friend Karen Comer.

Berking died Wednesday at his daughter's home in Alford, Mass., of cancer. He was 80.

In Northport, Berking fought against the proposed development near Warm Mineral Springs. He also wrote columns in the Northport Sun-Herald.

In 1996, he served as the campaign manager for Comer, who ran unsuccessfully against state Rep. David Bitner, R-Port Charlotte, for District 71.

"He was a hard worker. He had always tried to do the right thing for the health, safety, and welfare of the people and their environment," said Northport resident Maggie Gamez.

Berking, a New York native and a 1939 graduate of Williams College, took time from his advertising career to work in politics in Rye, N.Y., and in Westchester County.

In 1964, he was elected to the New York State Senate as the first Democrat to represent eastern Westchester in 52 years. He lost his re-election bid in 1966.

From 1971 to 1975 he served as chairman of the Westchester County Democratic Committee.

He was a founder and the first lobbyist in Albany, N.Y., for the environmental planning movement. Former Gov. Hugh Carey appointed him a member of the Board of Trustees of the Purchase campus of the State University of New York in 1977.

He served from 1977 to 1986 as the legislative director and consultant to the Legislative Committee on Energy Systems, where he helped draft much of New York State's energy laws.

He co-authored a book with Alan Chartock of Great Barrington, Mass. Entitled "Strengthening the Wisconsin Legislature." It was published by Rutgers University Press in 1970.

Berking was addicted to clipping newspapers and magazines and kept hundreds of files on various issues.

His first wife died in 1962. In 1964 he received the Father of the Year Award.

"He was a warm, energetic, very spirited and compassionate person and father. We feel lucky to have had him as a father. He did so much for so many people in Florida and New York," said his son Charles.

Berking is survived by his four children Charles Berking of Boxford, Mass.; Peter Berking of Vienna, Va.; Laurence Berking of Rochester, N.Y.; Charlotte Zanecchia-Berking of Alford, Mass.; his second wife Frances Bauman of Northport; 10 grandchildren; three stepchildren; and five stepgrandchildren.

Berkshire Eagle Obituary

September 26, 1997
"Max Berking, 80, dies; was former N.Y. state senator"

ALFORD -- Max B. Berking, 80, formerly of Rye, N.Y. and Northport, Fla., died Wednesday at the home of his daughter, Charlotte Zanecchia, in Alford.

Born in New York City on July 27, 1917, he grew up in Greenwich, Conn. He graduated from Williams College in 1939 with a bachelor's degree in politics and government.

Mr. Berking spent 43 years in the advertising business, most of it as the head of his own industrial advertising agency in Manhattan. He spent time in Washington serving agencies mobilizing the nation for World War II. In response to his leadership in the interventionist, anti-Nazi movement in New York, he was personally defamed in Nazi broadcasts from Germany.

A 30-year resident of Rye, he took time from his advertising career to work in politics, both in his hometown and in Westchester County. In 1964, he was elected to the New York State Senate as the first Democrat to represent eastern Westchester in 52 years. He was a founder and first lobbyist in Albany for the environmental planning movement. Gov. High Carey appointed him a member of the Board of Trustees of the Purchase campus of the State University of New York in 1977.

From 1977 to 1986 he served as legislative director and consultant to the Legislative Committee on Energy Systems, where he helped draft much of New York State's energy laws. He served as chairman of the Westchester County Democratic Committee from 1971-75.

After retiring in 1982, he moved to Northport, where he wrote a weekly column which was syndicated by four newspapers in the Sarasota area.

His first wife, the former Dorothy Noyes, died in 1962.

Besides his daughter, he leaves three sons, Charles Berking of Boxford, Peter Berking of Vienna, Va., and Laurence Berking of Rochester, N.Y.; and 10 grandchildren. He was separated from his second wife, Frances Bauman Berking of Northport, at the time of his death.

Facts about Max

(Some, but not all of these are included in the above obituaries)

Max's Memory Sketches

Max provided snapshots of his most vivid memories and experiences during each decade of his life up to 1987 for a 50th class reunion book.


I grew up in Greenwich, CT where my grandfather had been a horse-and-buggy family doctor in the 1870-1910 era. Early memories:


The Great Depression:


Political memories:

Later I worked in Washington as Assistant to the Chairman of the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), a tiny government agency set up to combat racial discrimination in war industry. Chief job: liaison with Congress at a time when old line Southerners controlled the committees and Jim Crow was flying high. Incredible as it now seems, I had never met a black lawyer before or seen a black woman typing, or lunched with a black in a government cafeteria. The word "black" was unknown then. Senator Bilbo of Mississippi ranted against our little agency as a conspiracy to destroy America, run by "burr-headed Nigras" (spelled Negroes in the Congressional Record) and a handful of whites who "could not be Americans, with foreign names like Max Berking." In early 1949, I recall my boss and other committee members coming back from a White House meeting with FDR, silent and and shaken by the terrible change they had seen in the President's declining health. Three months later, after perhaps Truman's first press conference, all the reporters filed past and shook the new President's hand. There was just one black, Harry McAlpin, representing the Associated Negro Press. As was customary, he was last in line. The President held his hand and pulled him aside. "Tell your people I will be good to them" Truman said. McAlpin raced to our office with the news. HST, during his Presidency, kept that pledge.

1950 to present [Max wrote this in 1987]


Max's Beliefs and Values

Here are Max's responses to questions about his beliefs and values on a survey distributed to the Williams College Class of 1939, which was included in the same 50th class reunion book as the above.

What's Important

Health, wife, children, family, and friends
A zest for life
A feeling of commitment to certain causes outside of oneself
A modicum of security - a range of interests

What's Insignificant

Fancy food
Social Status
Appliances that are unnecessarily complicated
Most movies and TV programs

What Have I Learned?

The simple truths that each person is unique that there is good and bad in all people
That it no longer matters (at least in my retirement) what people think of me

What I Should Have Learned and Haven't

How to negotiate
How to say no
How to discard or set aside the interesting yet less important matters so as to concentrate where it counts

My Convictions

In religion, I am a complete agnostic. I see no evidence to support anything mystical, no grand design, no power beyond us, nor any miracle, past or present. Everything is based on cause and effect. Preachers and priests are usually no better than anyone else, and organized religion-of any faith-is usually a sham, even though it often leads to social good for both individuals and society. Having said that, I hasten to say that I revere the historical Jesus who institutionalized the radical concepts of compassion, charity, love, and understanding.

Social and Political Convictions

Our unending quest should be to "make gentle the life of the world"
To reduce man's inhumanity to man
To stop despoiling the environment
To cherish what nature has provided.
Corrective measures involve all of the social and physical sciences, but especially political action.

Williams has played an indispensable role in my life. Primarily, it gave me an integrated political philosophy, and, from this, came manifold results: a fascination with things political; a calling to a life of mainstream liberal politics; and an involvement, almost every day, with the unfolding and incredibly exciting adventure of America in the the 20th century.

Williams has also given me my core group of old friends - more than school, job, community, or politics - though all of these, of course, have contributed too.

Hopes for the Future

My hopes for the future are to see my grandchildren flourish and play responsible roles in the world

The USA "self-correct" from its current excesses of greed, sloth, ignorance and the world continue its astonishing trend of recent months: a worldwide awareness that war (particularly nuclear) doesn't pay, that democracy and human freedom is the only option, and that we cannot continue endlessly to exploit the environment.

I am currently drafting plans for an international people-to-people organization to combat the use of governments of genocide and torture. It would be similar to Amnesty International but use far more aggressive (though still legal) tactics.


My fears are that here in the US, it is a race between progress and decadence which may well go against us, as much evidence suggests, and that the greenhouse effect and other irrevocable environmental disasters will continue to occur on an even vaster scale.

I am also afraid that our success or failure on much of this will turn on our ability to reverse a growing trend - the choosing of immediate gratification over long-range gain. This age-old tendency, also known as "buy now/pay later" has reached crisis levels in the Reagan years of individual and collective "credit card" buying. It is pervasive in all walks of life:

This immature and irresponsible national behavior is, it seems to me, today's central threat - something a Williams education is trained to combat and an area where Bush hopefully will be an improvement over his predecessor.

My Family Disappointments

The death of my first wife, Dorothy, in midcareer, after far too few years together

My failure to arrange more vacations during my active years

The illness of my sister, Fan, with Parkinson's disease, and the loss of two dear sisters-in-law.

My Business Career

Forming my own advertising agency in Manhattan was of only middling success as I look back on it. While it brought a living to me and a small staff, it never really grew to full potential.

Hilarious Happenings

Are frequent in politics. I recall how great it was to have a perfect stranger come up to me after a speech I had made and give me a fair-sized campaign contribution-and then discovering, a week later, that he had just been indicted for bribing public officials.


I shook hands with a voter on the Larchmont Railroad Station early one morning in one campaign. He asked, maliciously I'm afraid, if I knew him. I fumbled around but finally admitted that I didn't. "Well," he said, "I am Jerry Kohlberg. You were at my house last night for a fund raiser that I hosted for you!"

Or the time I gave the eulogy at a memorial service for a friend who had died. Before a packed congregation I recited amusing and flattering anecdotes about the deceased, including one, told to me by his brother, about his appointment to a prominent and difficult job-where the big boss was alleged to have said: "we picked (the deceased) because he was such a son-of-a-bitch that we knew he would get the job done." At that point, the deceased's three elderly sisters let out a shocked gasp heard throughout the room. I could have crawled under the rug.

Flukiest event

An uncle, over 90, saw me in my one and only full scale debate on television, apparently liked my pitch, and wrote me into his will on an impulse, unbeknownst to me. He signed it the following Sunday and died the next day. I never knew that he was still alive.

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