Obituary: Patricia Berry, 1947-2020 | Obituaries | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Obituary: Patricia Berry, 1947-2020 

Former Vermont director of public health was a fierce advocate for children and families

Patricia Berry
  • Patricia Berry

Patricia Berry, 73, of Concord, Mass., and formerly of Burlington, Vt., died peacefully at home of metastatic melanoma on Wednesday, May 27, with her loving daughter by her side. She is survived by her daughter, Tian Berry of Burlington, Vt.; twin brother, Peter J. Berry, and his wife, Joan Fischer, of Acton, Mass.; sister Nancy Alston and her husband, Phil, of Williamstown, Vt.; and brother David J. Berry and his wife, Peg, of Canton, Conn.; as well as numerous nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews. Her parents were Helene Ciglar Berry and Henry Arnold Berry, formerly of Fairfield, Conn.

Born on March 16, 1947, in Bridgeport, Conn., Patricia grew up in Stratford and Fairfield, where she developed an early love of the sea, spending long summer days on Fairfield beach. After graduating from Notre Dame High School in Bridgeport, she received her BS in nursing from Boston College, worked at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, N.Y., and then moved to Vermont, where she began a distinguished 40-year career as a pioneer in public health.

She received her master's of public health from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md., in 1982, and served in the Vermont Department of Public Health as public health planning and policy chief, director of local health services and, ultimately, as the director of public health for the state from 1989 until her retirement in 2007. Patricia’s dedication to improving public health held no bounds. She was a fierce and effective advocate for children and families in Vermont, especially those at risk. Her vision focused on infrastructure, integration and partnerships, and she worked tirelessly to build and strengthen the local district office structure and community services throughout the state. She was also instrumental in obtaining federal funding to support statewide school-age health programs.

Among her many professional accomplishments, Patricia’s legacy includes securing funding for and cofounding the Vermont Child Health Improvement Program at the University of Vermont's Larner College of Medicine, where she continued to work following her retirement. She also received national recognition for her development of Vermont’s WIC/Medicaid prenatal helpline campaign, and earned the March of Dimes Vermont Chapter 2005 Lifetime Achievement Award.

At the age of 52, Patricia traveled to China to adopt her daughter, Tian, whom she loved “to the moon and back.” As Tian grew up, Patricia enthusiastically joined school PTOs, cheered on the sidelines of countless soccer games and cross-country meets, and applauded at violin recitals and musical theater performances. She brought her leadership to Burlington’s parent community and nurtured in Tian her dedication to equality, justice and advocacy for underserved populations.

Following her retirement, Patricia suffered a tragic accident that rendered her a triplegic, but nevertheless … she persisted. Faced with many physical challenges, Patricia showed her indomitable spirit and resilience during her final years. She relocated to Concord to be closer to family, with the love and assistance of her dedicated personal care attendant, Afua Nikra, without whom she would not have had such independence, joy and laughter.

Patricia was an avid reader — particularly of biographies. She traveled extensively, and her adventures included circumnavigating the world in a cargo ship as a young woman and visiting China, India, Thailand, Brazil, Europe and the Panama Canal, in addition to annual trips to visit “Mother Sea,” with a special love for Truro, Mass. She loved cooking, fine food, and entertaining family and friends, and she always made a mean pesto! Though never vain, Patricia was proud of her beautiful auburn hair that spectacularly never turned gray. She was committed to fitness, competed in triathlons and road races, and annually hosted the Berry family reunion/marathon/relay at the Vermont City Marathon for many years. In her later years, she became an avid Red Sox fan and never missed a game.

She touched the lives of too many people to count, but none more profoundly than her dear friends and family. She was uniquely able to maintain connections with relatives and friends alike, and those who loved her will miss her more than words can say. We will remember her fondly in quiet moments by the sea, while relaxing on our front porches, listening to Vermont Public Radio, when we catch the fragrant lilacs on a spring breeze, or while strolling the streets of downtown Burlington.

At Patricia’s request, there will be no public services, but a private celebration of her life will be held at a later date. Memorial donations in Patricia’s honor may be made to Spectrum Youth & Family Services in Burlington, Vt. (spectrumvt.org).

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