Fathers, sons choose helping professions

By Tammy Keith Published June 18, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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Angel Moix/Contributing Photographer

Chuck Berry, second from right, is a retired Conway police officer, and his son, Lt. Bob Berry, second from left, followed in his father’s footsteps and will retire this month after 28 years of service. Bob’s son Josh, far left, is a corporal with the Arkansas State Police, and Bob’s son Tyler, far right, is a Conway firefighter. Bob Berry also attended the FBI Academy in 2002. A retirement reception for him is scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday on the second floor of the Conway Police Department.

If it weren’t for his skills as a barber, Chuck Berry of Holland might never have been hired at the Conway Police Department.

And that could have changed the course of history for two of his sons who became police officers, a grandson who is an

Arkansas state trooper and a grandson who’s a Conway firefighter.

Imagine the stories they tell at family get-togethers.

Chuck Berry served 18 years with the Conway Police Department. His son Lt. Bob Berry of Vilonia is retiring this month after 28 years in the Conway Police Department. Bob’s son Josh, also of Vilonia, is an Arkansas state trooper, and Bob’s son Tyler, who lives in Wooster, is a Conway firefighter. Chuck’s son David Berry of Enola was a Conway school resource officer for several years.

Bob, who turned 60 on June 12, spent three years on patrol before joining the SWAT team; then he spent nine years primarily working undercover in the narcotics division. A past president of the Arkansas Narcotics Officers Association, he was involved in community policing/bike patrol for a couple of years, and now he’s on his second stint working narcotics. He has the most seniority of any officer in the Conway Police Department.

“As a kid, I saw my dad getting ready for work and was so proud of him, but I remember stories he would come home and tell, like during Christmas and say how he’d see a family or lady with a bunch of kids, and he would pay for the gas to help them out,” Bob said.

“So I always wanted to grow up and be the same type of person that would help people. The uniform impressed me; it was sharp. But hearing stories about helping people and different things, I thought was so neat,” Bob said.

Chuck, who is now 81, served in the Air Force and later worked as a barber part time, including in Alaska. He said he survived three plane crashes, but his neck was broken in one of the accidents.

He received a medical discharge from the Air Force and moved his family from Scott, Illinois, to live on Lake Conway. He also has another son and two daughters. Chuck said he wanted to get on the Conway police force, but he said he kept getting passed over, and he believed the chief was leery of his injuries.

So he went to barber college and started cutting hair. One of his customers was then-Mayor Walter Dunaway.

“He came in, and he sat in my chair, and he always had the paper out looking at it. I said, ‘Mayor, I want to know something. … I want to know about getting on the Police Department.’

“He dropped that paper and said, ‘Have you lost your mind?’”

“I said, ‘Not quite.’”

The mayor told Chuck to give him one good reason why he wanted to become a police officer, and he would hire Chuck.

“I said one reason, I can retire at the Police Department; I can’t retire at this barber shop,’” Chuck said.

The mayor said that was good enough, but he wanted Chuck to continue to cut his hair on Thursdays.

Chuck said the police chief was shocked when Chuck walked in and told him he’d been hired. The mayor came in shortly afterward and informed the police chief that Chuck’s days off were Thursdays and Fridays.

His first day in 1974, Chuck worked a plane crash in Conway, but no one was hurt. He counts as highlights of his career arresting a couple of most-wanted criminals, including a man who had killed a police officer and injured one in Maryland. Chuck said he pulled up to a stoplight and saw a passenger slink down in his seat, which made him suspicious, so he followed the car, ran the license plate and found out the car was stolen, so he pulled it over. Chuck had a sawed-off shotgun in his police car and had it when he confronted the murderer.

But as his son said, what meant the most to him was helping people. Chuck recalled giving couples money out of his pocket if they needed gas, and when they offered to mail him the money back, he just asked that they help someone else someday.

“They said I was a better PR man than I was a policeman,” Chuck said. “They said I was too friendly with people.”

Chuck said he tried to talk his son David out of becoming a police officer, but Bob was dead set on a career in law enforcement from the get-go.

“I gave them fatherly advice, but you know, sometimes you have to jump in the water to see how deep it is,” Chuck said.

Before Chuck retired in 1992, after he received injuries in a vehicle crash, he and his sons Bob and David worked together in the Police Department.

Chuck recalled that Judge Russell L. “Jack” Roberts would call out a case in court and ask, “Do we have C. Berry, B. Berry or D. Berry today?”

Bob said it was hard to get hired at the Police Department because he has type 1 diabetes, which at the time was seen as a drawback. He said his supervisor asked if he could give the department 20 years of service; he’s at 28 1/2.

Bob worked undercover for nine years. He opened his billfold to show a photo of himself from those days, wearing long hair and a beard, looking like a hard-rock-band member, not a clean-cut cop.

“One of my favorite and biggest search warrants was one I did in Vilonia, where I got 9 pounds of meth and

several guns,” he said.

He also recalled a situation when he was certain he was going to die.

“One I can remember as clear as if it just happened; I didn’t think I would come out alive,” Bob said.

He said he went undercover to a party at a house with no electricity on a dead-end road. He said he saw two women whom he’d arrested before.

“I thought they were going to snitch me out,” he said. The women took the drug dealer to the back. “I thought, ‘This is it — I’m dead.’” The women didn’t reveal Bob’s identity. “They thought I was going to buy all the dope, and they were trying to get some of it.”

He admonished his sons that if “any bad guys come up to your dad, don’t tell them what I do.”

Bob said that once when he had Josh at the Faulkner County Fair in Conway, a drug dealer came up to him and asked Bob who the kid with him was. Bob lied and said Josh was the son of his girlfriend. The drug dealer asked Josh if it were true, and the youngster said yes without hesitation, Bob said.

“I said, ‘Wow, I’m glad I talked to him ahead of time,’” Bob said.

Josh, 29, is married and lives in Wooster.

“I’ve known since I was 3 years old that I wanted to be a police officer,” Josh said. “I guess when I was in preschool or something, they always ask you what you want to be when you grow up. When I applied for the state police, my mom found a little drawing [I’d done] of me as a police officer.

“A lot of our family is law enforcement, so it’s almost like we didn’t have a choice.”

Until he was in his teens, Josh didn’t see his dad in uniform because Bob was undercover.

“I would see a lot of troopers in uniform growing up; they always looked sharp,” Josh said.

He joined the Arkansas State Police eight years ago and is a corporal. In 2011, he was part of Operation Delta Blues, an FBI-led, multiagency drug-trafficking investigation focused in Helena/West Helena and Marianna. It included arrests of five police officers, and Josh said he helped build the cases on some of them.

Josh said he loves being a trooper.

“Every day is different, and you have an opportunity to help people, whether you just change a tire for somebody or give directions,” he said.

Josh said he likes to interact with children, and he’ll let them sit in his vehicle and play with the blue lights.

“I think with young kids, you’re there to let them know law enforcement is there to help them,” he said.

Bob Berry said he had always taken Josh and Tyler with him to Shop With a Cop at Christmas to buy toys and clothes for underprivileged children.

“One time Tyler looked up at me and said, “Dad, I didn’t know how lucky we had it,” Bob said.

It’s a tradition they continue today.

“That’s always a very rewarding thing for us,” Josh said. “We take kids who might not get anything else for Christmas and see the smiles on their faces.”

His younger brother also chose a helping profession, although not law enforcement.

Tyler, 25, is married and lives in Wooster. He said he never wanted to be in law enforcement because he was drawn to the medical field. He graduated from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway and considered physical therapy, but when he was 22, he joined the Conway Fire Department.

He said his law-enforcement-heavy family was proud of him for becoming a firefighter.

“We’re close. They were all pretty excited; they all think it’s a good idea,” he said.

Of course, he also gets some grief about his job.

“They give me a hard time. My brother always messes with me; he says, ‘I’ll eat till I’m tired and sleep till I’m hungry.’ We [firefighters] do a lot more than what he thinks. We’re required to work out at least an hour a day. When we’re called to duty, it’s physically demanding.”

Bob said that when other police officers asked how he was going to feel when Tyler became a firefighter, Bob said he was happy “because everybody likes firefighters.”

The men’s risky careers were tough on the women in the family — Chuck’s wife, Sally, who died in 1999, and Bob’s wife, Shelia.

The Berry men said they enjoy getting together on Father’s Day, although it can be hard to work around their varied schedules.

“Father’s Day, it’s special to me,” Tyler said. “My dad, he’s a great guy. He showed me a lot growing up. As a police officer, he definitely expected more if I messed up; some parents, they just blow it off. I definitely, definitely couldn’t slip up too much growing up without him knowing about it.

“What I admire is he looks at everybody the same. He doesn’t care what your background is, what your race is. He views everybody the same. He’s definitely a people person. Everywhere we go, he’s got a million people he’s talking to; he makes friends with strangers.”

Josh said their dad has always been available when his family needs him, and Bob has been a good role model.

“He’s always trying to help people and stuff. He loved his job all these years. He doesn’t say it, but I think it’s going to be tough on him not to be able to go out there and do what he loves every day,” Josh said.

Bob is proud of his sons, too.

“They both like helping people,” he said.

The men plan to spend today together.

“Normally, we get together and eat dinner and kind of hang out and visit,” Josh said. “We can definitely tell a bunch of stories.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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