Joel S. Berson
Obituary for Joel S. Berson
Joel Berson, 80, of Arlington, MA., passed away suddenly at home on June 15, 2017. He is survived by his friend and partner, Lee Auerbach and her children, Jennifer, Marcella and Stephanie, who he considered his extended family, as well as his grandchildren, Derek, Octavia, Kendall and Kristina. He is also survived by his brother, Robert J Berson, and his children, his niece Jessica and nephew, William and their children.
He will also be missed by favorite friends, Ulrike, Nathalie and Aurelio of Basel, Switzerland; in December he traveled to spend the holidays with them; and by Kaoutar and Omar of Morocco, who live in the Boston area.
Joel was born and raised in New York City. His mother Gussie Wexler Berson was a high school English teacher, and his father, Charles C. Berson worked for the New York Department of Labor. Both of his parents were immigrants who had arrived to the US with ambitions to educate themselves and their future children.
Early on, Joel was considered a genius, and his teacher recommended that he switch to a school which would challenge him. He entered the School of Ethical Culture, Fieldston, a private, independent school which did foster his talent. At the age of 16, Joel won a full Ford Foundation scholarship and left high school in his junior year to study physics at Columbia University. After earning a B.S. with honors in Physics at Columbia, Joel was awarded another full scholarship at Harvard University, where he earned his Master’s in Applied Science and several fellowships. He then joined Honeywell, where over a 30-year technical career as a scientist, he contributed to many of the company's innovations. At the close of his industry career, Joel spent several years at Digital Corporation, where he coordinated the global standards team for software development.
As an example of successful midlife change, Joel developed expertise in indexing, research, writing and publication. His interest in etymology and linguistics led to his ongoing contribution of American Slang to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) of more than 1000 words, and daily communication with the members of the Linguistics List, an online community whose members are invested in the changing patterns of English and its uses in their work.
In late life, Joel discovered a misspelling of Menotomy in one of Nathaniel Hawthorne's writings. Menotomy was the original name of Arlington when the village was settled in 1635. His curiosity led him to research Hawthorne's sources for creating his stories. Over time, Joel became a respected, independent scholar of New England History and Nathaniel Hawthorne's uses of local stories in newspapers.
Joel became the leading expert in the five Boston newspapers of 1739 and history in-the-making of that period. He researched, wrote, and published numerous articles on controversial topics from the smallpox controversy among doctors and ministers, to slavery and local lore. Links to some of his publications are available on the Internet.
Joel relished good food, fine dining, chamber music, and travel. He was an avid user of the Widener Library, the Salem Athenaeum. many other local libraries and historical societies. Joel was well-lived, enjoyed his Victorian home, and was an avid fan of the New York Yankees and all sports. He was an omnivorous reader of mysteries, science, architecture, art and other subjects, and wrote while watching old movies. He was a scientist, humanitarian, mentor, as well as a father figure and our friend. We miss him.