‘Big mouth’ gets elderly woman in big trouble

Presidential threats aren’t taken lightly, even in Homer

Posted: Sunday, January 21, 2007

Peggy Berry isn’t one to bite her tongue. The 77-year-old has a reputation for being outspoken, leaving listeners with a clear idea of where she, and they, stand. So when Berry’s frustration level began to rise during a conversation with a Social Security representative, it wasn’t unusual for Berry to speak her mind. What was unusual was the reaction it got and the unexpected visitors that appeared at Berry’s door the following morning.

The problem with Social Security began when Berry’s ex-husband died and she received his Social Security check, only to find that a sizable amount had been deducted for Medicare.

“So, I called Social Security and unloaded and said I felt that somebody should have at least asked me if I was interested (in Medicare) or not,” Berry said. “The Social Security person said she was real sorry, but she didn’t know what to tell me to do.”

With her next response, Berry unknowingly launched a course of action that changed her world.

“I said there wasn’t really anything anyone could do besides take a gun and kill (President) Bush. Then she said she had to report that and I thought who cares, they can go ahead and arrest me and we’ll get a story that maybe will help the seniors,” said Berry, who once had her own radio and television programs in Minnesota and Wisconsin, on which she addressed senior-related issues. She currently is a receptionist at KBBI and also coordinates Vial of Life, a program that helps individuals gather together important medical information so it is available in case of an emergency.

“So, that was the end of that.”

Or so she thought. At 10 a.m. the following day, Berry was startled by a knock at her door.

“These two guys were standing there and I knew the minute I opened the door (who they were). They introduced themselves and said they were from the Secret Service in Anchorage,” Berry said.

In response to their request to enter her home, Berry told them they could come in, but first she had a question she wanted them to answer.

“Do I honestly look like I’m ready to jump into my car and drive to Washington, D.C., and shoot the president?” she said. “They said no.”

Once in Berry’s house, it was the Secret Service representatives’ turn to ask questions.

“They came in and (one of the men) started in, ‘Do you have any mental illness?’ I said ‘No, however if you asked my kids they might disagree,’” she said. “I was kind of kidding along, then I realized they were writing all these things down.”

Next, the men asked about any medication Berry might be taking for mental illness. They also asked if she owned a gun.

“I told them no, and if I did, I wouldn’t know what to do with it,” she said.

The Secret Service representatives asked Berry if she had anything else she could use to attack the president. No, she said, adding that the biggest thing she had available was her big mouth.

Could they speak to one of her relatives, someone who could vouch for her sound mental health? They were finally able to contact Berry’s son, Jim, in Pennsylvania by telephone.

“The guy started talking to him and Jim said, ‘Did my mother put you up to this? ... Are you serious about this? ... You mean you’re mad because my mother got mad because you took $265 away from her?’ But they told him it was because of what I’d said,” Berry said. “Then he said, ‘Are you arresting her?’”

After the Secret Service assured Berry’s son that she wasn’t being arrested, he said, “It’s a good thing because I’m too far away and don’t have time to come to Alaska to bail her out.”

In the aftermath of her run-in with the Secret Service, Berry confessed that she felt “like an absolute idiot.”

That, however, didn’t resolve her differences with Social Security. In fact, Berry now has additional concerns.

“I think what they did was stupid. It doesn’t hold an ounce of sense,” she said.

Thinking over her comment, she added, “I suppose now I better be a little more careful.”

Jonathan Coke, program director for KBBI, appreciates Berry’s outspoken attitude.

“I got the biggest kick out of one day walking into the lobby and here she was, a little old lady, reading ‘Rolling Stone.’ She was probably reading some political commentary,” Coke said, laughing. “It struck me like hope that I can be young forever.”

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.

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