My mother, Bernice Olivia Berry Gary passed away October 27, 2006 peacefully in her sleep, after a month being ill. She was 88 years old. She was the kindness person I ever met. This is her eulogy, offered at her funeral service by her pastor, Dr. Rev. Roderick Miller.
Bernice Olivia Berry was born July 24, 1918 in Savannah, Georgia. She lived in various cities in the south. She was an accomplished pianist, and at one time received support to study music.
She met Larry Gary when they were both in Atlanta after the war. She was a medical records technician, he was attending Georgia Tech for an engineering degree. She lived in a women’s boarding house- one part of which was for men also, and Larry happened to live in that section. They met and had a 6-9 month romance. They were married in her home church, Trinity United Methodist in Savannah, in the fall of 1946. 60 years ago.
Bernice and Larry had Suzanne first, followed by Larry and then Jay. The family lived in cities up and down the east coast from Atlanta to Dover, Massachusetts, and finally here to Ellicott City and Columbia.
Moments, Images, and Remembrances
Bernice was one of the first persons Carol and I met when we came to Ellicott City and to Bethany. She was a member of SPRC at that time. That first night when we went around the room, sharing about the church, Bernice talked to us about the Prison Ministry. We were to find that her heart was in mission outreach. And she not only talked about it – she was one of the regular participants who went to the prison and talked with the women, sharing her message of grace and acceptance – a whole person evangelism.
You could take the girl out of Georgia – but you could not take the Georgia peach sweetness out of this girl. She always had a kind word, a gentle word, a welcoming word. I understand that Matthew said other night that if God had a VIP room in heaven – grandma would be there. And let me add that she would be talking with everyone and making everyone feel at home.
If you talked to Bernice for just a few minutes, you would hear about her family. She was very proud of everyone. You could tell that she held you close in thought and in prayer. She would usually ask about your family as well. The last time I spoke with her when her body was fading, her mind was still sharp and she wanted to know about Carol and our sons. Family relationships, and the church were the focus of her attention much of the time.
Larry and Bernice went on mission trips with the church. To Alaska, and to Puerto Rico, I believe. They helped with the refugee ministry – especially with the Abahovics from Bosnia. In fact, whenever there was a mission meeting, an opportunity to reach out in the name of Christ, Bernice was there. An active member of the Edith-Martha Circle, you could depend on Bernice to participate and support projects that reached out to persons in need. She was also an active member of PEO – a women’s philanthropic organization, which she helped establish in this area.
Bernice was courageous. Courage involves acting from a faithful and trusting heart, having the inner strength to do what needs to be done, having the courage of one’s convictions – living from the center. As David had the inner strength to face the Goliaths of his life, so Bernice was strong inside. You could see it when the family moved, sometimes after less than a year in a location, she made each location a home, finding a church right away, establishing all of the relationships in a community, seeking out whatever was needed so they could not only get by but flourish in each place. And you could see it as she faced one medical challenge after another. She did so with grace and deep faith, while continually caring about others.
Julian of Norwich: The words of God, you will not be overcome, were said very insistently and strongly, for certainty and strength against every tribulation which may come. God did not say: you will not be troubled, you will not be belabored – you will not be disquited – but God said you will not be overcome.
God wants us to pay attention to these words and always be strong in faithful trust, in well being and in woe, for God loves us and delights in us, and so God wishes us to love him and delight in him and trust greatly in him, and all will be well.
Bernice lived a life marked by forgiveness. Norman Cousins once said that “Life is an adventure in forgiveness.” Hers was. She had an ability to let go – to take life’s hurts – and not to return them in kind. Forgiveness for Bernice meant having the freedom to be at peace in herself, and to be glad in the presence of others. Forgiveness was a permanent attitude for her, choosing to see the good in others, refusing to hold back a desire for good for them.
Today we celebrate a life lived in fellowship with God. A life, we believe, was and is lived in eternal celebration with God. Pain and joy are often a part of each other. How many parents, while attending the wedding of their child, fight back tears not because they don’t want their son or daughter to be married but because a new relationship is beginning that is unlike any other? Sorrow holds on for a time, but joy comes in the morning. I understand that Bernice once had dinner with Billy Sunday. A wonderful image of heaven is of a banqueting feast, with all those who one has known and loved and who have gone before, the power of love which does not end yet extends from this life to the next.
May that kind of love – Bernice’s kind – God’s kind – the love that continues through whatever may beset you – be yours this day. May you know the peace that passes understanding – to keep your face turned toward the light – and your heart established in that which does not fade but is permanent in the heavens.
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Bernice Gary was born in Savannah, Georgia. She is buried at Loudon Park Cemetery in south east Baltimore, Maryland, next to her husband, Laurence H. Gary.
Genealogy: Bernice Olivia Berry (b. July 24, 1918, d. Oct 27, 2006)
1. Father’s side: was Burchard Brickman Berry (b. 1894; d. 1927).
Grandfather was Thomas Walter Berry (b. 1834); Grandmother was Ella Thales Walker Davis
2. Mother’s side: Alice Olivia Jordan (Berry), (b. 1897; d. Oct 1, 1923), married 28 Oct, 1917 in Montgomery, Alabama.