LANGLEY, Va. - From a young age, Patrice Allen treasured memories of her military family.
“While my dad was in Vietnam, we would send cassettes back and forth in the mail. We couldn’t see him but we could talk to each other,” she said. “That year of my dad being gone showed that my parents were strong, determined and could do anything, making us a close-knit family.”
Through their collective 100 years of civil and military service in the Air Force, the Berry family’s pride and dedication to their military family served as a foundation to shape their own lives. Their military mindedness and patriotism also helped to create a stronger connection to the Air Force community.
Bill Berry, Patrice’s father, served as an Air Force security policeman. Toward the latter part of his career, he was assigned to Langley Air Force Base, close to where his daughters were preparing to attend college.
“We thought that if our children were going to stay here then that is where we needed to be,” he said. “We also became acquainted with a lot of good people in this area so it was a good plan for us to stay.”
Bill retired in 1974 as a senior master sergeant. After applying to have his military job contracted, he returned to the same desk, only this time wearing a suit. He eventually retired from civil service giving him a total of 41 combined years with the Air Force. His family greatly appreciated that even though he was still contributing to the military, they were able to keep roots in the Hampton Roads area.
“My dad retired for us,” said Patrice. “It meant a lot to keep us grounded instead of moving us somewhere we would be like a fish out of water.”
Their journey to Langley began two years after Patrice was born during her father’s tour in Germany. Being new to a base and not knowing anyone, Patrice’s mother Norma wanted to acclimate to the area and be more involved in the community. She began working for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Hampton before accepting a position as a secretary for communications logistics at Langley, beginning a 30-year career in civil service.
Even though Norma maintained a full-time job, Patrice said she always made time to contribute to the family.
“My mom was a hard-working woman, but for her it was a job, not a career,” Patrice declared. “She was committed to us as her family, sewing our clothes and making sure that even after a long day, dinner was on the table.”
Patrice said seeing her mother balance work all day, then come home and be dedicated to her family inspired her to develop her own work ethic. After she graduated from Old Dominion University in 1983 Patrice applied for a civil service internship.
“My mother found an application for [a civil service] intern program and encouraged me to apply,” said Patrice. “At the time, I wasn’t thinking about longevity of what I was going to be for the rest of my life, but she planned that for me.”
Even after retirement, Patrice said Norma “never missed a beat” in providing for the family, even watching her grandkids while Patrice worked. Up until her passing in December 2012, Norma continued to set examples for Patrice, who often reflects on the fond memories of her mother.
Patrice remembered a time when her parents jokingly expressed the thought of the family cumulatively reaching a century of service. Her father turned to Patrice with a smile, and said, “Now it’s up to you.”
For Patrice, achieving that goal was easy. She felt confident in meeting those expectations because she saw what the military lifestyle had done for her family.
My mom was very proud of my dad and their life together. She always said they were so blessed,” said Patrice. “Through their example, I have a stronger marriage and a good life.”
Now having served 29 years of civil service, Patrice has support not only from her family, but from her husband as well. She said the foundation she gained from her parents greatly influenced her own family morals and helped her find happiness with her high school sweetheart even 29 years later.
“[My husband] would help with our two boys while I was gone on temporary duty, while working a full-time job himself,” said Patrice. “He has always been supportive of my career which has allowed us to live a balanced life.”
Patrice said she is still dedicated to her service, and the thought of possibly retiring one day is bittersweet. However, when she does retire, she wants Langley to remain her home.
“Langley has been a huge chapter of my life. I even had my wedding reception at the officers’ club,” said Patrice. “It has been a great place to call our home for 50 years.”
By keeping a dedicated military household, Patrice’s parents invested time into their family, keeping them grounded and making them strong. Even though Norma has since passed, the foundation she and Bill built around those principles has shaped Patrice’s family values as a wife and mother, uniting their family in a legacy already a century in the making.