A transformer of lives and champion of human potential, paths that took him all the way to the White House, Robert C. Berkley, 59, of West Tisbury, and Naples, Fla., died peacefully at home on Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. He was surrounded by his beloved wife, Debbie Phillips, dear friend Meredith Schoenberger, caregiver Simone Finnergan, and Hospice nurse Chantale Patterson.
For 15 months, he had courageously and unflinchingly powered through a gastric cancer diagnosis, while he continued to work as an executive coach.
Throughout his life, Rob was incredibly wise, gifted, and talented, but he never acted or wanted anything more than to be useful to those he loved and served. He was well-known across many industries for his ability to help people clarify their goals and achieve success.
Born on Sept. 7, 1959, to Louis and Constance Berkley in Brooklyn, N.Y., the family moved to Woodstock, N.Y., when Rob was 12, and he became an All-American soccer star at Onteora High School.
After graduating from Cornell University, he moved to New York City, where he worked as an executive at several major companies, including Bankers Trust, Simon & Schuster, and Pearson.
At 28, he founded Fusion Systems, and developed the first computer trading system sold on Wall Street. He later sold the company, but it exists today as an IT systems and business consulting venture.
As a corporate leader, even at a young age, he took pride in learning how to motivate and inspire people to be their best. By 1998, he became a pioneer in the field of executive and life coaching by using coaching skills as the CIO of Simon & Schuster and Pearson, and by teaching at the first online coaching school, CoachU, founded by the “father of life coaching,” Thomas Leonard.
Rob and Debbie met on a business conference call in 1997, became professional coaching colleagues, and later fell in love. As coaches, they could work from anywhere in the world, and settled on Martha’s Vineyard. They moved to the island in 2001, built their dream home, and Rob started a men’s group with strong connections that remained to the end.
They also began hosting “Friday Night on the Deck” parties for friends, clients, visitors, houseguests, and neighbors as a way to connect people and showcase authors, musicians, and other talented people.
From 2000 until his death, as a master certified coach Rob worked with owners and leaders in both public and private companies, such as the co-founder of GroupMV, LLC, Vision Day, and Women on Fire. His vast knowledge and keen insight led many clients to call him their personal “Yoda.”
A highlight in his career came in 2016 when he and Debbie were invited to the White House to help transition many of President Obama’s staff.
A perpetual learner, Rob studied and became proficient (or a master) at everything he tackled — meditation, hypnosis, neuro-linguistic programming, Gestalt therapy training, Jin Shin Jyutsu, and photography.
He also served on the boards of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, and Noepe Center for Literary Arts.
As his final project in life, he worked with celebrated Martha’s Vineyard photographer Alison Shaw and designer Sue Dawson to publish a coffee table book of his work, “Birds I View.”
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a brother, Richard; half-brother, David; nieces and nephews, Amy, Rachel, Andrew, Sam, and Margaret Berkley; and sister-in-law Robyn Berkley; and many cousins.
He also cherished Debbie’s family as his own, including his mother-in-law Mary Lue Phillips; brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law Scott and Dianne Phillips; Lori Phillips Gagnon; Susan and Joe Henson; nieces and nephews Jennifer, Joe, and Avery Gregg; Ryan, Sarah, and Kinsley Ausley; Christian and Tyler Phillips; and Ashley and Jordan Phillips.
He held dear as family many friends, clients, and GroupMV colleagues. Although he and Debbie had no children of their own, they spent many wonderful summers on Martha’s Vineyard hosting young people they loved dearly, including goddaughter Julia Celeste Tarka, Emily Neal, Christian and Tyler Phillips, Margaret and Sam Berkley, Eleanor and Max Celeste, and Stefan, Rika, and Anna Viragh.
Rob was preceded in death by his parents, his father-in-law, Dick Phillips; and his brother-in-law, and sister-in-law, Steve and Gaby Phillips.
In Rob’s final six months of his life, he was supported and greatly comforted by his teams at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital’s infusion center, led by Barb Rush, and at Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard.
Please consider donating to in Rob’s memory to Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard, P.O. Box 1748, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568. You’re also welcome to share wisdom you learned from him at this site featuring his photography: sharing.robberkley.com.
Rob had a special way of listening, holding space, and opening up a doorway so anyone could step forward into the next, greatest vision for his or her life with confidence and joy. The greatest way to honor him is to really listen to someone in your life, and leave them a little better than you found them, which was his personal mission.
There will be celebrations of Rob’s life later this year in New York City, and at a dedication in his honor at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, Fla.
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