Friday, March 15, 1996, Chicago
Gil Thorp creator Jack Berrill died Thursday at his home in Brookfield, Conn., after a long battle with cancer. He was 72.
Berrill entered the newspaper business in 1941 as an $18-a-week copyboy for the New York Daily News. It was there that his work was noticed by Winnie Winkle creator Martin Branner. He became Branner's assistant and worked for him over the next 17 years.
Berrill struck out on his own in 1958 creating Gil Thorp, the legendary strip about a high school coach. Berrill always had wanted to do a sports strip and combined efforts with what is now Tribune Media Services when the syndicate was looking for a strip about teenagers.
Berrill and Gil Thorp took on the job of showing today's teens as they really are with important decisions to make. Berrill kept up with the times, taking the square-jawed Gil Thorp from the crewcuts, hot rods and slumber parties of 1958 to teen pregnancy, divorce and drug issues of today.
Berrill said of Gil Thorp's problem-solving techniques, "He's not a guy you can put in a slot. He has no set formula for solving problems, just lots of common sense."
The strip was named for two of Berrill's heroes--Jim Thorpe and Gil Hodges. Berrill often bounced story ideas for the strip off his wife, an English teacher, and children, along with family friends who are teachers and coaches.
Of the awards he received over the years, Berrill was proudest of the two presented to him by the Connecticut High School Coaches Association in 1966 and the Connecticut Education Association in 1980.
From a weekly cartoonists' luncheon of colleagues that Berrill faithfully attended, fellow cartoonist for the New Yorker and other magazines Joe Faris said, "Gil Thorp was much more than a sports feature. The strip covered deep, personal relationships with an awareness of the current problems facing young people today. We've tipped the chair for him and made a toast at lunch today, he'll be deeply missed."
"Jack Berrill represented one of the great storytellers in the comics world. He was a skilled artist, a true sportsman and humanitarian," said Mark Mathes, managing editor for TMS.
Mathes said the Gil Thorp strip will continue uninterrupted to newspaper clients across the country.
Berrill is survived by his wife, Veronica, and his six children: Tom, Anne, Kevin, David, Stephen and Bonnie.
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