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West Hartford's Jean Paul Berard Remembered for Accomplishing the Impossible Dream

Teacher, veteran, advocate dies at age 86.

“Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.”

― Aristotle

Marion Berard said that the book “The Wounded Warrior” described “a man of hope … willing to cry with those who cry, laugh with those who laugh and one to make his own painful and joyful experiences available as sources of clarification and understanding.”

She recognized at the time that the description perfectly fit her husband Jean Paul Berard.

Jean Paul, a teacher, mentor and advocate, died on Jan. 6 at the age of 86.

Scores of people attended his funeral on Thursday at Church of St. Peter Claver in celebration of Jean Paul’s remarkable life and legacy.

Marion, who was flanked by her five children, including town council minority leader Denise Hall, said that her memories of her husband were affirmed in the numerous tributes and testimonies provided by many of Jean Paul’s former students.

Jean Paul Berard was born Dec. 30, 1927. He graduated from Weaver High in Hartford and was drafted into the Army upon his graduation in 1946. He was in the 19th C.I.D. during the occupation of Japan, according to his obituary.

Upon his discharge, he married Marion and graduated from Teachers College in New Britain. The couple moved to Windsor Locks and Jean Paul taught in Windsor.

Jean Paul, Marion said at the service, took several stances in Windsor Locks that were not popular with some people.

Specifically, Jean Paul helped petition to bring kindergarten to the school system.

“When the referendum passed, we received calls to get out of town and go back where we came from,” Marion said.

Jean Paul also advocated for the addition of fluoride to the water.

“He was accused by some of trying to poison them,” Marion said.

And, even though he was a resident in the heart of Connecticut’s Tobacco Valley, Jean Paul instructed others about the dangers of smoking.  He even showed his class how to write a bill on forbidding sale of cigarettes to minors.

According to his obituary, he led the drive to pass a state law that required the notice "Sale of Tobacco to Minors Prohibited" be posted on all tobacco vending machines, which passed in 1963.

“He loved listening to ‘The Impossible Dream,” Marion said. “As Don Quixote, he always set forth on his quest to right the unrightable wrongs, to reach the unreachable star.”

He and Marion moved to West Hartford in 1971. Jean Paul taught at Talcott Junior High, Plant Junior High and Sedgwick Middle School until he retired in 1997. Even then, he substitute taught until he was 83 years old.

A tireless advocate on behalf of veterans, Jean Paul and Marion laid flags at Fairview Cemetery on Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day.

He was also vice chair of the West Hartford Veterans Memorial Committee, which was responsible for the memorial in the Center.

Any one of those accomplishments is noteworthy to the point of high praise.

But Jean Paul’s greatest legacy - outside of his wife, five children, nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren - lies within the students he taught and kids he mentored through St. Peter’s youth group.

“We would do almost anything for that man,” said Katie Smith, who was a member of the church youth group, at the service. “We placed countless flowers at graves, served countless pizzas to volunteers and baked countless Otis Spunkmeyer cookies for volunteers. …

“I learned from him the importance of serving my community. … Everyone was welcome in Mr. Bernard’s service groups. He embraced people and praised every victory, no matter how small.”

Smith, who, like Jean Paul, went on to become a teacher, said that she was teaching her fourth-grade students about themes in literature. Sometimes, Smith instructed her students, one had to infer what an author was writing about as a theme.

“In Mr. Berard’s life, the messages were simple: Show up. Take action. Be positive. Do something. No act of service was an act too small. He didn’t have to verbalize these lessons. They were manifested in the way he lived his life.”

Jackie Shelburne, also a member of the church youth group, echoed those sentiments.

“He made us want to show up, even when we were teenagers and we were seemingly always tired,” Shelburne said. “My dedication went beyond the youth group. He became my family. Mr. Berard and I built a friendship that has defined my life’s path and my career as a geriatric social worker.”

Marion said that Jean Paul was always patient and slow to anger. He also possessed a sly wit.

During one argument, Jean Paul told Marion that she could go live with her mother.

“I responded that I couldn’t because she lived with us,” Marion said. “I went for a ride instead.”

Marion said that she was sure that when Jean Paul passed away and he gave up his spirit, he heard seven words.

“Welcome home, my good and faithful servant.”

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