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Posted: May 01, 2011

Executive edge: Maria Garcia Berry

Cuban immigrant has helped shape Denver as political consultant

Lynn Bronikowski

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Look at any major project in the Denver area, and chances are Maria Garcia Berry, who founded CRL Associates, had a hand in making it a reality.
She rattles off a list - the Pepsi Center, Coors Field, the Colorado Convention Center, Invesco Field at Mile High, Belmar, Cherry Creek Shopping Center, the Denver Pavilions, Denver International Airport, Stapleton redevelopment, Union Station.

Garcia Berry cites passage of FasTracks for which she was campaign chair, as her biggest accomplishment because, "it will change the region for a hundred years," she says.

"One of the things about having this company is that I'm always involved in new things, and you get into the thick of it. Then you move on to new things," said Garcia Berry, who founded her political consulting company 30 years ago. "It's been a wild roller coaster ride, but I was always taking on different challenges."

Garcia Berry, 57, traces her political activism to her parents' decision to flee Cuba in 1962 after Castro took power. Garcia Berry was 8 years old when her parents entrusted their only child to friends and put her on a plane to Miami as part of Operation Peter Pan.

"My mom remembers to this day my yelling out, ‘I'll be OK. I'll be OK,'" recalls Garcia Berry, who would reunite with her parents five months later when they won permission to emigrate. "You have to have an undeniable admiration for them to be able to do all that. They did it for me. So it shapes your ability to say that you've got to do it for the next generation."

Within two weeks of arriving in Miami, the political refugees flew to Denver, were sponsored by the Westminster Methodist Church and rebuilt their lives - her father as an accountant and her mother a kindergarten teacher.

"The first thing you have to remember about me is that I'm an immigrant," said Garcia Berry, whose husband, Chuck Berry, is president of the Colorado Association of Commerce & Industry. "There's a lot of mistakes you might have made; lost opportunities you should have taken, but as an immigrant you just train from the beginning that you've got to look forward."

Her high school days were activist years - protesting Vietnam, walks for hunger, Earth Day. At 18 she became a delegate for George McGovern to the Democratic National Convention and would go to work for Gov. Dick Lamm.

"He was one of my best bosses in my whole life. He was tough; he was hard; he demanded a lot of you, but he taught you a lot," Garica Berry said. "When I first started working in the governor's office and the Legislature, I thought I wanted to be a senior policy maker in government. But I learned a lot about myself being in the governor's office for four years, and one of the things I learned was that I liked hard challenges, but I liked them on a project basis."

Since leaving Cuba 49 years ago, she's returned to Cuba three times - most recently last November when Project C.U.R.E. delivered a year's worth of medical supplies to Matanzas, her hometown.

"I'm very involved and passionate about Project C.U.R.E. It meant a lot to go back and give back. This was really personal because the hospital we adopted turned out to be the hospital I was born in," she said. "Every time I'm there I think, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.' You think about what motivated your parents to make one decision vs. other people who made other decisions and how dramatically different our lives would have been if we had stayed."
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Lynn Bronikowski is a freelance writer in Denver.

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