The Way We Were: Pat and Betty Geer

The Way We Were: Pat and Betty Geer
Betty Pemberton and Pat Geer, 1966-1967

Pat and Betty Geer met in Jacksonville in the 1960s, raised a family here, and continue to reside locally. They were high school sweethearts at Robert E. Lee. Loyalty to God, school, and country is what they learned and what they taught their children. “Time changes all things,” Betty said wistfully. “But I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

Pat Geer as a Robert E. Lee High School senior, 1967
Pat Geer as a Robert E. Lee High School senior, 1967

A native of Corpus Christi, Texas, Pat (William) Geer was born to Helen and Rufus (Nat). He came to Florida in 1959 when he was 10 years old because his dad, who was a civil service employee for the Navy, had chosen Jacksonville over San Diego. The Geers lived first in Normandy and then moved in and out of various houses, ending up on Amherst Street in Murray Hill. Living there, Pat remembers building boats to float under Roosevelt Boulevard out to Fishweir Creek and then into the river until they sunk.

Pat was the youngest of four with one sister, 16 years older than he, and two brothers. Their antics were typical—one brother accidentally hit Pat in the head with a baseball bat and the other let him fall out of a moving car. Today, Pat laughs about their tomfoolery.

His family’s relocations were the reason for Pat attending four different elementary schools, one in Texas and three here—Normandy Village, Normandy, and Hyde Park. For junior high school, it was Lake Shore for Pat, and then onto Robert E. Lee High School where Betty already was.

Betty, a Jacksonville native, was born Elizabeth Pemberton in Old St. Luke’s Hospital. Her mother, Elizabeth Muse, was born in North Carolina and moved to the Fernandina area of Florida when she was in her early twenties. “She never worked and never drove a car,” Betty marveled. Betty’s dad, Edward R. Pemberton, came to Florida from Pittsburgh when he was just a year old because his family didn’t like cold weather in the north, and they never returned.

Betty Pemberton at graduation from Robert E. Lee High School, 1966
Betty Pemberton at graduation from Robert E. Lee High School, 1966

Betty grew up an only child in Avondale in a house her father had built on Randall Street. She attended Ruth N. Upson Elementary School where she remembers taking part in air raid drills, diving under her desk in case an atomic bomb came. “Back then, I walked to school. I lived about a half mile as the bird flies from the school, but I had to walk across Roosevelt Boulevard from the other side of the railroad tracks. That’s different; a lot of kids won’t walk that far now,” she said. She was a Girl Scout. She attended John Gorrie Junior High and remembers riding her bike alone to Willowbranch Park to get books from the library. “It was a great time back then. You could go anywhere and do anything without any fear,” she said. She’d roller skate on Rensselaer Avenue in metal skates that required a key. Then, it was on to Lee High, as if she were there awaiting Pat, one year her junior, to come.

Though they didn’t know each other yet, Pat and Betty both recall Saturday mornings at the Edgewood Theatre, music concerts in Woodstock Park, free dance clubs, and youth centers where teens could congregate. “We grew up in the best of times. The 50s and 60s I don’t think you can beat. We were Baby Boomers. We grew up saying The Pledge,” Betty explained. She described it as a time when religion, high school loyalty, and patriotism were very important. “I would never want to replace those years of my life,” Betty said.

They first met at the Green Street Youth Center where Pat was playing drums in a band called The Malibus. “One of Betty’s best buddies, Kay Musselwhite, had a crush on our saxophone player, David Hall,” Pat shared as Betty giggled. The two friends showed up at the Center, and Betty immediately liked the drummer, Pat, and thought he was “cute at first sight,” she said. Then, they’d see each other at Lee High victory dances after football games where The Malibus would play. Pat was a drummer in Lee’s band, too, and he recalled a walkway between the main school and the band room where he and Betty would often meet to talk.

Pat told how he lived on the “opposite side of the tracks” from Betty, and he would ride his bike to her house. Mrs. Pemberton found it odd that a high school boy would be riding a bicycle because her daughter had a car as a senior. But he was a year younger, still a junior, and didn’t yet have his driver’s license.

Pat recalled riding on the bus with the rest of the Lee band to play at a football game against Fletcher when a crazy lady in a 1960 Pontiac, with her friend in the passenger seat, was driving close alongside, feverishly waving. It was Betty, wanting to catch a glimpse of Pat. “I did some reckless things back then,” Betty admitted. “I remember no fear, no stress,” she said.

Betty holds fond memories of her family’s summer home on Neptune Beach, another one her dad had built in 1962. She didn’t know back then that someday she’d be spending time there as an adult with her own children and, beyond that, occasions with grandchildren as well.

The Malibus 1966
The Malibus 1966

In 1966, Betty graduated from Lee. The Malibus played at her prom held at the Jacksonville Coliseum, which has since been torn down. And she got a summer job at the main post office downtown where the state attorney’s office is now. Her dad had retired from there the year before after a 46-year postal career. In the fall, Betty went off to Georgia to attend a Methodist school, Andrew College, for two years, and Kay Musselwhite went along with her. 

In 1967, while Betty was away at junior college, Pat graduated from Lee and worked for a short time as a civil service apprentice at Naval Air Station before joining the Air Force. Pat carried a photo of Betty and himself in a footlocker while on active duty. The young couple kept in touch via handwritten letters, and Pat has saved many.

On May 10, 1969, they were married in the church Betty grew up in, Trinity United Methodist Church in Avondale on the corner of Glendale and Eloise Streets. It has since changed to Holy Trinity Anglican Church, but before it did, Betty had been heavily involved as an active volunteer.

Their first home was a second-story rental on Forbes Street near Kings Street. That was before purchasing from Betty’s parents their Randall Street house, the one in which Betty grew up. “Then, Betty’s parents wanted their house back,” Pat said. Her parents weren’t happy in their new home in Southside, they missed Randall Street, and the Geer family was growing, so ownership changed again. Pat, Betty, and their three children—two boys with a girl in the middle—moved a couple of blocks away to Wolfe Street. “We kept migrating all over the neighborhood,” Betty said.

The Wolfe Street house wasn’t quite big enough; a large room was added onto the side. Matching bricks could not be found for the addition, so Pat and Betty removed the bricks from the end themselves, chipped them out one by one by hand, to reuse on the new front so that it would match the existing front. “That was a hard job. I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Betty said. “And after all that, we moved to Oak Street,” Pat added. Their migration to bigger places continued.

“I wanted kids so badly,” Betty said. She admitted to feeling lonely without siblings, so she knew she wanted to have more than one child. “Betty’s focus was the kids, making sure that they grew up right, while I was out working,” Pat said.

After his active duty in the Air Force, Pat went back to work for the Navy for a little while and then for Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company, which became BellSouth Telecommunications. He retired from there 35 years later, prior to the AT&T purchase, and went into business with his first son, Richard, forming Geer Services, Inc., a web design and development company. The two moved into an office in what is now called the TIAA Bank Center, a skyscraper on West Bay Street. “I was kinda lazy,” Pat admitted. His BellSouth office was in the same building. “So, I just had to move my stuff on a freight elevator down to the fourth floor,” he said. They are still in operation today but have since moved up to the fourteenth floor. Father and son maintained parallel careers, serving simultaneously in the Air National Guard—Pat for 31 years and Richard for 20. The duo was featured in an Air Force Times article.

In addition to being a businessman, Pat is active in many community causes. He is on the board of the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association; he is a Mason, a past master of Albert J. Russell Lodge No. 126; he is involved with the Cecil Field POW/MIA Memorial; and, together with his son, their company provides the website and some marketing for Wreaths Across America Jacksonville.

Pat is also on a committee, working with Norman Abraham and others, to preserve the name of their alma mater, Robert E. Lee High School. He helps on the technology side, with the website and online marketing. “The reason I feel so strongly is because of the memories that Betty and I have from there. We don’t think you should change history. You should teach history,” he said. He believes the money that would be spent on name changing would be better spent on education and safety.

Geer Family Christmas 2016: Back Row - Pat Geer, Richard Geer, Bre Geer, Blayne Geer, Christen Geer, August Geer, Betty Geer, Jeff Strickland, Sheryl Geer Strickland. Front Row - Xander Geer, Jason Geer, Mayson Geer, and dog, Wesley
Geer Family Christmas 2016: Back Row – Pat Geer, Richard Geer, Bre Geer, Blayne Geer, Christen Geer, August Geer, Betty Geer, Jeff Strickland, Sheryl Geer Strickland. Front Row – Xander Geer, Jason Geer, Mayson Geer, and dog, Wesley

Pat & Betty now live on Park Street near Cedar River within a mile of where they each grew up and have their three children living within a 10-mile radius. Richard purchased the Murray Hill house that Pat grew up in. Their daughter, Sheryl Geer Strickland, lives in St. Nicholas in a house that had belonged to Betty’s paternal aunts and uncles. Their younger son, Jason, who has given them four grandchildren, lives in the Whitehouse area. And both houses built by Betty’s father are still in the family. “We’re like a commune,” Betty said through her lighthearted laugh. Jacksonville is not only where they live, it’s what they love.

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