ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County’s Notable Neighbor this week is a man who has helped change many lives for the better with the help of his partner, the community and support from people who dine at Pat’s Kitchen on East Broad Avenue.
NAME: Marshall Berry
BIRTHPLACE: Robeson County
HOMETOWN: “We lived between Maxton and Pembroke.”
EDUCATION: Pembroke High School
CAREER: “Basically, most of my life was in construction. I had an accident in 1990 that pretty much brought an end to my career. I had my own concrete form business and I was up on a wall when the concrete form fell and I broke my lower back. It broke me all to pieces.”
“My parents were Jack and Shady Berry of Gibson. Daddy was a sharecropper, I think all over Robeson County. My momma had 13 kids plus two others — one who died two weeks after birth and one who was stillborn. So 15 children in all. I lost three brothers in six months. They were 18, 25 and 27. One was in a car wreck. One drowned. One was shot in the back. There are 10 of us left and we see each other a lot. We are very close.
“I met Pat (Britt) around 20 years ago. She was in the food business then. She ran this sandwich shop on No. 1 South that was a well-known eatery. At the time, we were just searching. There must be something there, ‘cause we’ve been together now around 21 years and I’m happy. I tell people now I could go home and get in the bed and not wake up tomorrow and I’d still be happy.
“Before all that 20 years ago I’d go to bed at night worried about whether I’d wake up tomorrow. Now, I don’t worry about death. I used to worry about it all the time. But not anymore, and it’s the Lord that makes it possible.”
“I’m on the board of directors for the Christian Closet, but it’s really the people I’m involved with and the friends I’ve made since I moved to Richmond County. The people I do these benefits for. And when I get ready to do one I can call 10 to 15 people, and they just jump on board and start putting things together.
“People like Richard McRae and his wife Amy McRae, Ernie Eason, Eddie Martin, Joe Richardson, Graham Jenkins and Vickie Daniel. Lord, she goes everywhere and does all she can do to help anyone. And there’s Suzanne McInnis and Betty Brigman and of course Pat and her daughter Lisa. I don’t know what I’d do without a single one of them.
“We started doing these benefits around 13 years ago. We’ve done about three a year since then and raised about $350,000 over the years.”
WHAT MOTIVATES HIM
“People that I know that need help. I get enjoyment from those people I named that all I have to do is pick up the phone and they’ll be there. The camaraderie with people coming together is inspirational.
“I’ll have people come in sometimes and ask, ‘How much of that money do you give the family?’ And that kind of upsets me sometimes. We give all of the money to the family. All we keep is about $350 to cover the cost of replacing the cooking oil. All the rest goes directly to the families.”
“What I’m most proud of is all the friends I have made since I’ve been in Richmond County. It’s just like the ex-mayor (Gene McLaurin) sitting over there with Monty Crump and G.R. Kindley right now. When I do these benefits, Gene would do anything to help me get what I need.”
“My parents and my raising. They’d put the whoop on me when I needed to be whooped. I loved my mom and dad. And if you met any of my brothers or sisters, you’d be meeting the same person. It’s because of our raising.”
HOW HE UNWINDS
“I get into my recliner and just sit back, and that’s about all I want to do. Me and Pat, when we leave here on a Saturday night, we hit the recliners or the couch and watch TV and rest.”
“I want to live another 20 years, but — there’s things I’d like to do, but I’d have to be 20 years younger to do it. I don’t think my health being the way it is would let me do it. What’s a good feeling is when people come through that door and tell Pat and me we’re doing good. That’s payment enough. It’s just a good feeling you get helping others. Pat says, ‘The Good Lord blesses us for the things we do.’ And I know that’s true.”
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.