Theresa Maria Berry, 97, long-time resident of Arlington, VA, peacefully and quietly passed away on December 21, 2018 at her assisted living residence in Culpepper Garden III located in Arlington, VA.
Born in Tampa, Florida on June 10, 1921, Theresa Penalver was the second oldest of six children born into the marriage of Domingo Penalver and Ethel Borders. Bi-lingual (English and Spanish) Theresa spoke Spanish at home with her father, an immigrant from Havana, Cuba. In secondary school, under the tutelage of her mentor, Mrs. Anderson, Theresa was an excellent student and excelled at writing, delivering speeches and reciting poems at a variety of social functions.
As a young woman, Theresa met and married the love of her life, William Ellis Berry, Sr. who was serving in the US Army. She lovingly stated, “Bill and I met one month, courted the second month and married the third month. The day his company moved out, I cried all that day for I had no idea we would be parting so soon, but within a couple of weeks I would be joining him after he finds a place for me….Later I joined my husband in Myrtle Beach, SC. He was able to get a room for us at the Bar and Grill Hous (sic) guest. It was owned by a Black woman, Mrs. Jones, and was the only guest house for soldiers and their wives or girlfriends. This was in ’43 and there was nothing for blacks to do in Mrytle Beach.”
After her husband’s honorable discharge, they relocated to Detroit, MI where Bill’s older brother Leonard found a room for them with a community kitchen in a private home. Her husband taught her several card games; they listened to radio music and danced; and went for frequent walks. Bill lovingly called her “Tress.”
With the help of a dear friend, Bill had a job waiting for him in a chemical plant in Newark, NJ. Tress and Bill relocated, and a month later they moved again settling in Rutherford, NJ where they lived with two elderly families.
Their first child, Cheryl, fulfilled her husband’s wish for a daughter. She was born in Passaic, NJ. The couple welcomed their second child 18-months later, William Jr. born in New York City in November 1949. With a letter of support from her doctor, the couple and two children became eligible for a three bedroom apartment in a new public housing project called Patterson Housing in the Bronx, NY. They moved in 1950. Four years later, the family grew with another son, Leonard, and five-years after his birth, a daughter, Veronica.
Although Theresa wanted to pursue her education and career ambitions, she gracefully assumed her full-time job as a loving at-home Mom at the urging of Bill who never wanted his wife to have to work. In this role, Theresa poured into her children a desire for educational excellence and career achievement. She inspired her children to pursue their passions and encouraged them along the way.
In the early Seventies, the couple purchased a cooperative apartment in Co-op City, Bronx, NY where they lived until the mid-Eighties. Upon her husband’s retirement, they resided in Tampa, FL, and then relocated to Falls Church, VA to be closer to family. Theresa’s life was full and enriched by the love and steady companionship of her children and grandchildren.
Following her husband’s passing, Theresa lived independently for many years. During this time, almost on a daily basis, she had the support of her son, Leonard who assisted her with her day to day regimen. She later moved to the home of her oldest daughter, Cheryl, with granddaughters Cherelle and Chanelle, and their dog Whisper. Here, Theresa was actively engaged with her grandchildren’s educational, extra-curricular and social activities. Theresa also participated in a host of senior community-based and church activities. Desiring to reclaim her independent lifestyle, Theresa pursued residency at Culpepper Garden, a senior living community where she lived for several years.
She later moved to Auburn, NY, where she lived for over a year with her son bill, his wife Lisa, daughters Shannon and Carrie, and two hairless cats. While there, she enjoyed the beautiful environs of upstate New York’s Finger Lakes region and adjusted to snowy, colder winters. During the fall, she raked leaves; in spring and summer, she enjoyed walks along Owasco Lake or Hoopes Park, and meals on the side porch. However, fearful of bee and mosquito bites, insect repellent was always on the table near to where she sat. During this time, known affectionately as “Ma B,” she especially loved spending time with new friends at the Booker T. Washington Center participating in a variety of weekly senior activities, especially Bingo.
In 2013, she reclaimed her independence and returned to Culpepper Garden (CG) taking residence in the assisted living building, which adjoined the CG independent living complex where she had previously lived. Theresa cultivated endearing friendships among residents, staff, and administrators and remained at CG until her passing.
A dedicated wife and devoted mother, Theresa raised four children; celebrated a 50th wedding anniversary in 1992, and was married 53 years before Bill, Sr. passed in 1995. Theresa was noted for her graciousness, kind spirit, and a “smile that lit up the room,” - characteristics most noted by friends, associates and new acquaintances.
Theresa is survived by two daughters, Cheryl Berry, San Diego, CA (Morrell Gaines) and Veronica Ramos-Jackson, (Allen) Baltimore, MD; son, William E. Berry, Jr. (Lisa) Auburn, NY. She was predeceased by her second son, Leonard K. Berry, Orlando, FL in 2015. Also surviving are her two sisters Florence Owens, Tampa, FL and Edna Penalver, Bronx, NY.
“Grandmommy/GMA” is survived by grandchildren Ngina Williams (Kim) New Jersey, Sean Williams, Brooklyn, NY, Brandon Ramos, Herndon, VA, Isis Arias Clermont (Stephano) Brooklyn, NY, Cherelle and Chanelle Gaines, San Diego, CA, Sean O’Grady, Maui, HI, Shannon Phillips (Bryan) Clarence Center, NY, Carrie O’Grady, Auburn, NY, Donte Kolas Elizabeth, NJ, and Isaiah Jackson, Union, NJ. Her brothers Johnny, Raymond, and Harold Penalver predeceased her.
Theresa is also survived by several great grand-children, cherished nieces, nephews, and many “adopted” daughters and sons, all who enhanced, enlivened and enriched her life. She often mentioned how blessed she was to have extended family and dear friends that she could open her heart to.
During the last few days of her life in hospice care, Theresa welcomed visits from family and friends and peacefully accepted going “home” to be with her husband. In the early morning of December 21st, the angels guided Mom to heaven’s gate to reunite with her beloved husband. That evening after her passing, a spectacular full moon with a brilliant radiance rose in the night sky, signaling to family and friends left behind that she was welcomed at the celestial gates with fanfare and joyous festivities.
During her lifetime, Theresa enjoyed visiting with family and friends; entertaining guests at in-home parties and impromptu dinners; completing word puzzles; playing Pinochle, Bid-whist and other card games, checkers, Dominoes, Rummikub, and Chinese Checkers. She laced conversation by quoting ‘parables’ and sharing words of wisdom. She enjoyed dining at new restaurants and trying different ethnic cuisines, sharing a cocktail or two ever so often, and traveling.
Theresa delighted in writing poetry and her proudest achievement was having one of her poems published. She was, also, an expert seamstress and loved sewing mother and daughter dresses and window treatments. She had a talent for designing and making quilts and enjoyed embroidery, crocheting and knitting. While in New York, her brief forays into the working world proved her to be a skilled bookkeeper and effective office manager. She was active in civic organizations and a local Democratic club. Throughout her lifetime, she continued to give financial support to her preferred candidates for their campaigns, as well as a variety of charitable organizations.
Theresa stayed devout in her religious practices and attended Mass and church services as often as she could. She embraced and held dear her traditional Catholic upbringing and raised her children in Catholicism. She served in her parish church, assuming leadership roles and participating in key organizations where she advocated for inclusiveness and change. She ardently lived her life following a simple yet complex precept, the Golden Rule. Life for her was not all that complicated if one adhered to the truth.
In the past year or so, “Doña Theresa” enjoyed speaking Spanish, her often unused childhood language, with other Culpepper assisted living residents and staff who did not know that she was of Latin descent. This was one of her few “secrets.”
In September 2018, Mom had the opportunity to road trip with her daughter, Veronica and her husband Allen to the Bronx, NY, to celebrate the 90th Birthday of the youngest sister Edna. In attendance was Florence, her middle sister, from Tampa, FL, who joined for the celebration. This was the last time all three sisters were to be together.
Theresa’s cremains will be interred in the same columbarium niche as her husband, Bill, Sr. on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington VA with a small “homegoing” memorial celebration sometime in 2019. The exact date for internment will be according to the Cemetery scheduling.
Memorial contributions in her name may be made to a preferred charity or non-profit organization as your personal remembrance. The Berry family highly recommends donations to the Tom Floyd Memorial Fund, Culpepper Garden, 4435 N. Pershing Drive, Arlington, VA 22203 in recognition of the staff’s wonderful care and support for their mother over many years.
Theresa’s children, Cheryl, Bill, Leonard (posthumously) and Veronica extend their heartfelt gratitude to the staff, caregivers, and administrators of Culpepper Garden for the provision of high-quality independent living and assisted living services. The family sincerely appreciates the compassionate, excellent care and treatment extended to their mother. They constantly demonstrated professionalism, sprinkled routinely with daily doses of kindness, affection and love. The staff individually and collectively discerned appropriate, doable pathways when it seemed obstacles would get in the way and unduly impact Theresa’s quality of life. Each individual will continue to hold a special place in her children’s and grandchildren’s hearts.
The family also generously thanks the staff of Vitas Health Care, Vienna VA for their compassionate and professional services that provided a calming, reassuring presence, a caring patience and respectful understanding, and support that assisted the family to better accept earthly life transitions.