Retired city council member walks out deep-rooted, lifelong passion for service

 

The soapy Cocker Spaniel slipped out of Pat Berryman’s hands. “Watch out, Grandma—you have to hold Lady tight,” directed seven-year-old Emmabeth. “I need to get the rest of the soap out of her hair.” Pat followed orders, attempting a firmer grip on the wet dog as Emmabeth poured out another cup of warm water. After a few more rinses, a brief toweling, and a prolonged shake by Lady, Emmabeth surveyed the dog with satisfaction.

“Every time my grandchildren come over, they have an idea of something they want to do,” explains Pat, who retired from the Georgetown City Council at the beginning of 2012. “Emmabeth had this one all planned out. She decided that we should start a doggy day care. She would walk your dog, wash your dog, play with your dog, and love your dog whenever you couldn’t. So we tried it on my dog, Lady.”

After six years as a city council member, Pat enthusiastically embraces these new roles of wet dog wrestler, doggy day care attendant, and—most important—grandmother. “One of the reasons that I chose to step down from office,” Pat says, “was that our family grew from two grandchildren to seven in a few years. My husband, Robert, and I want to be in their lives and impact them in what they do and believe, just as my parents did for me.”

Heritage of Service

The last batch of chocolate chip cookies came out of the oven, and a nine-year-old Pat inhaled the rich aroma of baking chocolate, making a quick move for the crumbling cookie closest to her. Her mother, Irene, always allowed her to taste one of the broken ones. Pat had to be quick, though, because the PTA meeting started in less than an hour, and her mother did not tolerate tardiness.

“I had a PTA activist mom and a Boy Scout leader dad,” explains Pat, “and we went everywhere with them. We never had a baby sitter while I was growing up. I think they modeled service to me in ways I haven’t fully understood until now. They were always involved, even into their late seventies and early eighties, helping their neighbors and working in the community. The passion I have was given by example from my parents to me.”

Pat also credits her older brother J.B. Stewart, who served in Vietnam and came home with life-altering injuries, for inspiring her to service no matter the challenges. “J.B.’s service to our country altered the course of his life,” Pat says, “yet he hardly complains, and he keeps reaching out to others. He’s my hero. He overcomes adversity daily and cares for others more than himself. If he can do it, so can I.”

Inspired to Action

“I went with a church camp to Louisiana one summer as a kid,” Pat says. “We went out into the community during the day doing service projects for the people in the town nearby, and we invited them to a tent revival at night.”

A twelve-year-old Pat pulled out a bandana and knotted it about her head as sweat trickled down her temples and into her eyes. She then returned to spearing and scooping debris into the black garbage bag at her side. Despite the sweltering Louisiana heat, Pat tackled her task with energy, envisioning how the neighborhood would look when cleanup and repairs were finished. “That week,” Pat now recalls, “I saw lives changed by our involvement. When I returned home, I was a kid again. But as I grew older, that experience began to take on new meaning.”

Pat also counts the influence and example of her second grade teacher, Mrs. Pennington, as inspiring her love for public service, as well as her sixteen-year career as an elementary school teacher. “A teacher is a great communicator and patient encourager,” says Pat, “a wonderful salesman of concepts and ideas, a good writer, and a good mediator. These have been the perfect skills for everything else I have done.”

Legacy of Care

Pat’s service includes serving for ten years as a legislative aide to long-time District Five Republican Senator Steve Ogden and then six years representing District Five on city council, as well as one year as Mayor Pro-Tem. She also served for two years as chairman of the Georgetown Economic Development Corporation and for five years on the executive committee of the Capital Area Planning Council of Governments.

“Coming from teaching, where I watched helplessly when I saw children and families in need,” Pat explains, “it was wonderful to help people, to teach them how to help themselves, and to get to know folks from all walks of life. I especially cherish working with Senator Steve Ogden and his wonderful wife, Beverly. At the end of each day, you could see the fruits of your labor and know the name of someone you helped in some way.”

In retirement, Pat remains committed to helping others. She serves the Berry Creek Women’s Association as vice-president and program chairman, and she helps with the Berry Creek Cancer Fund Tournament. During the past twelve months, Pat’s particular focus has been on introducing the STARRY Foundation, a nonprofit specializing in care for children and their families, to the Georgetown community.

“I spent too many years watching children in a state of hurt and struggle,” says Pat. “This is why I love the STARRY Foundation. They do outreach to thousands of children all the way from Pflugerville to Waco. They offer safe houses, counsel at risk families, and work with homeless teens and children entering Child Protective Services. Their goal is to help break chains of emotional poverty being passed from generation to generation.”

More than anything else, Pat welcomes time with her family. “I missed a lot when I was in public office,” says Pat, “so I am making up for that now. Robert and my youngest daughter, Colleen, particularly had to sacrifice. Robert helped out and held me up in many ways. Colleen was in high school at the time, and I know it was hard for her, but she never complained. I am thankful for their support—I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Pat has also embraced her burgeoning role as proud grandmother. “When I walked out of city council chambers, I walked into the arms of my grandbabies,” she says. “I believe that the one thing we all are called to do is to carry our values to the next generation—this is just what you do, you serve. An active witness is the best way to make a difference in a young life.”

By Christine Switzer
Photos by Rudy Ximenez

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