Maryellen Barry and her seven children had their world destroyed when her husband, Trooper Paul Barry, died on the job in 2006.
In addition to their unthinkable grief, Maryellen and the kids faced an uncertain future without the family patriarch. But before they could even start to worry, the State Police Association of Massachusetts stepped in and started helping – and the assistance has continued ever since.
“The immediate short-term assistance is invaluable to young families that suddenly find themselves in this position,” Maryellen says. “Right away they stepped in and said, ‘We’ll take care of the funeral.’ It’s always been this recurring theme of, ‘You’re one of us.’ That’s never gone away.”
The SPAM Benevolent Fund has provided more than $600,000 to families of first responders killed or seriously injured in the line of duty. For the Barry’s, the assistance has been crucial, especially as college bills are already arriving for her oldest children.
The Barry’s, both from Dorchester, met at Camp Fatima in New Hampshire when Maryellen was 22 and Paul was 18. They started dating and got married in 1992. They went on to have seven kids, including triplets: Nick, 22; Emily, Ali and Colin, 21; Michaela, 17; James, 14; and Elizabeth, 12.
Trooper Barry died June 15, 2006, when he suffered a heart attack while driving his cruiser home from work. The vehicle veered into the breakdown lane and struck a parked dump truck. EMTs were able to revive him at the scene but he succumbed to severe head trauma from the crash.
Maryellen, the daughter of a Boston cop, said she never dated police officers but was happy for her husband when he decided to leave his career in investment banking to become a trooper.
“When he said he wanted to do it, I saw it was his passion,” she said. “He had a great love of people. He liked the state police, their moral codes, their mottos, the way they train. He thought this was the way he could give back to the community.”
“He would tell me he couldn’t believe they paid him to go to work,” she added. “He loved it.”
Ever since the tragedy, the SPAM Benevolent Fund has helped Maryellen with costs for their family. Every Christmas, the fund gives her the equivalent of one detail shift for each child that she uses for gifts. Troopers have dressed up as Santa and come to their house in Franklin, they call or stop by to check in on the family, and when she attends memorial services, she’s always accompanied by one of her husband’s trooper friends.
“They get it because they know when they go to work the same could happen to them. They treat you like family,” she said. “They’re such a presence in our life. It’s an extension of family and our kids are so lucky to have that in their lives.”