If it went fast, Randy Berry was more than interested.
“Dad was there,” said his daughter, Paula, who was named after her father’s brother, Paul, a helicopter pilot for the U.S. armed forces who was killed in the Vietnam War. “Dad was definitely an adrenaline junkie; that’s not even a question.”
Memories flew about for the 67-year-old pilot Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, at Eagle Vistas LLC at the Inverness Airport, where family, friends and former students came to pay their respects for a man who had been in the aviation business for most of his life. Both grandfather and father were pilots for the U.S. military, serving in World War I and II, respectively. His parents ran a small airport in Sebastian, Florida, for a number of years.
“Aviation has always been a part of our family,” said his sister, Debbie Berry, who worked for Lockheed Martin for 35 years. “My brothers and I were from different generations, but we still have a love of aviation.
“Both of my brothers were two of the best damn pilots.”
Berry, 67 was doing what he loved Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, when the single-engine plane he was flying crashed just 2 miles south of the Inverness Airport, killing him.
But those who gathered at the agricultural pilot flight school, where Berry was also a commercial ag sprayer, didn’t come to mourn, but celebrate his life. As part of the celebration, pilots did two passes of the airport, before concluding with the missing man formation.
“He was very passionate about it, it needed to be done,” said his wife of 13 years, Beverly, about not just teaching the next generation, but instilling in them the importance of safety.
est moments for the Berrys was not only training agricultural pilots, but visiting them at own locations. More often than not, the Berrys would travel the country during the summer months in the RV and would drop in to visit former students at their work.
“I remember one visit, a lot of times Randy would work ag in summertime, we would live in that RV during that summer,” Beverly recalled. “Wherever we were; we’d stop and see students. We were driving into Vinton, Iowa, we hadn’t let anyone know we were coming.”
Then up pops a photo on Facebook, “looks like the Berrys are coming.”
“We visited two young men who started a business, and made us proud the whole way,” she said.
Randy Berry’s impact wasn’t just felt locally, regionally or across the U.S. but it spanned the globe, said Beverly. The company they owned, in operation for 18 years, moved in 2018 from Fort Pierce to Inverness. Pilots came from the likes of Europe, South America, Mexico and other countries to learn the skills necessary for a career.
Caleb St. Hilaire suited up and arrived early to the Inverness Airport on Friday morning and…
“I’ve received calls from around the world,” she said in regards to his former students reaching out following the news of his death. “That’s a unique situation.”
Flying wasn’t his lone passion, so where the seas, said his son, Chris Cook-Berry, who works on super yachts as a captain. His oldest of three children recalls the times his father taught him how to scuba dive, or even at 8 years old, his dad taking him onto his Octopus.
“You probably wouldn’t see that happening today,” Chris said with a small laugh.
Still, his fondest memory of time with his father was in Camille, Georgia, when his dad was working through the summers, spraying fields.
“I’d get homesick,” he remembered. “And he had this old utility van; he put a bar on the dashboard so I could sit up there with him. I felt like one of the boys out getting the job done.”
It was in his mid-twenties when Chris earned his commercial pilot’s license, spending countless hours under the tutelage of his father.
“It was really an incredible time to share his passion with me,” Chris said.
His youngest son, Tim Cook-Berry, remembers his first solo flight at the age of 16.
“I probably never had seen him happier,” he shared.
Not only did Berry teach his offspring, but dozens of others the basics of flying. But safety was always, always paramount in all that he did, said Randy Miller, who worked for the Berrys.
On George Daniel’s 97th birthday, he drove himself to the Inverness Airport.
“He’d seen a lot over the years,” Miller said. “He saw such a need for good, well trained pilots who understood the safety.”
That’s because, as his son, Tim Cook-Berry put it, behind combat pilots, commercial ag sprayer’s were the second-best “bad ass” pilots.
“You’re flying at 150 miles per hour, 10 feet off the ground,” he explained. “No one talks about that.”
“We looked for precision,” Miller said. “We’re low to the ground … he was very specific about training and safety. He was very passionate about his craft and the safety of others.”
While he did have a passion or the skies and seas, his daughter said he loved teaching and music. And while she loves aviation, Paula followed her father’s footsteps, becoming a teacher.
“It’s all the parts of him,” she said about flying, boating and teaching, career paths her brothers and herself are now a part of as adults.
But the biggest joy she shares with her children are her love for rock ‘n’ roll music, especially the Beatles, one of her father’s favorite bands.
“That was it for me,” Paula said, noting her family has a “Beatles Sunday,” where that’s the music of the day throughout the house.
Shifting through all of the memories of her brother, Debbie said one fact stood out, clearer than any.
“Randy commanded the plane as though it was an extension of his soul,” she said. “It was more than an aircraft; he was always one with the aircraft.”