Remembering Professor Andy Berger
It would be exceedingly easy to define Andy Berger by his interests, because for Andy to feel passionate about something meant he immersed himself in it. With Kentucky basketball it was an encyclopedic endeavor. He knew the history frontwards and backwards, the trends, the waxing and waning of a program and its triumphs and losses. With music, Andy lived and breathed the art, experienced bands and artists universally known and acts he’d come across one time by accident in a dive bar. He wrote beautifully about music. He examined songs and albums and discographies, tracked the changes and evolutions of artists, how they found their way into their verses and choruses, and what those songs and efforts said about them and society and being a person making their way through the world. To listen to Andy talk or read his writing about basketball or music was to believe that some things in the world meant something and that life was worth living.
But any conversation about Andy would be incomplete without talking about the human being. He was restlessly thoughtful and fundamentally decent. I had the chance to watch Andy in committee meetings, in conferences with students, chatting over beers, hosting people in his home, and chewing the fat while he flipped burgers on his grill. He treated everyone with an evenhanded respect and kindness, regardless of whether that person was a friend or stranger or someone with less or more power. He was smart. Impressively smart. But he made room and space for other’s opinions, feelings, and experiences. And when he talked to people you could see, even if it was waiting on a drink at a bar or at a recruiting event and a line of potential students were waiting behind someone he might never meet again, there was an admirable calmness in his willingness to listen.
As a colleague, he volunteered. If something needed done, if hands weren’t raised, even if it meant less time to focus on his obsessions and career and just the occasion to rest, he chipped in. He asked after people. How their classes were going. How their lives were shaping up. He was supportive and maintained a level of thoughtfulness and levelheadedness, even in the face of undeniable unfairness and injustice, that most of us would simply be incapable of.
That evenness should not be mistaken for apathy. Or indifference. Andy was impassioned about justice. He wanted to make the world a better place, by helping students find their way, by speaking out against inequality and cruelty, by being an example and by maintaining a sense of hope even as moments and controversies might have worn out others. Andy had a moral compass to be truly admired. He had an incredible heart.
He loved his home state of Kentucky, his family, and, above all, his wife and his son. The only times I ever saw him more excited than discussing a new album or a down-to-the-wire conference game or something innovative a student had figured out in their work was when he talked about Dawn and Arlo waiting on him back home. He was deliriously thrilled to be a husband and a father and he imbued all the obsessive energy he had once reserved for his hobbies into those roles and more.
That we lost him so soon is a misfortune and he should have had so many more years, but he fit so much living and so much love into what time he had. We were so lucky to have him and I know no one who knew him, whether it’s his colleagues or friends or students, will forget him.
Written by Professor Jared Yates Sexton. Andy died at age 37 after cardiac arrest and unexpected complications. If you are interested in donating to Andy’s family, click here.