After a valiant six-year battle with osteosarcoma, Patricia van den Berg passed away peacefully on July 1, 2022 at the age of 51. Born in Delaware to Lodewijk and Jackie van den Berg, she spent most of her childhood in Goleta, California after the family relocated. She was a gifted student at Dos Pueblos High School (class of 1988, where she also played the french horn in the orchestra and marching band and was a standout on the mock trial team). She loved children and worked as a nanny for several years. Her academic talents soon brought her to the University of California at Berkeley, where she majored in Psychology. She received a PhD in Clinical and Research Psychology from the University of South Florida, before a post-doctoral stint at the University of Minnesota, where she also earned a master’s degree in Public Health. She continued her research career at the University of Texas, Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, TX, holding the position of Assistant Professor and Research Psychologist until her cancer diagnosis in 2016. She specialized in adolescent health and, specifically, in the field of body image research, focusing on adolescent girls and boys, and underserved communities. Her initial groundbreaking research was especially important in helping to challenge preconceptions and prejudices about the connection of health and weight control. Her work highlighted the often deadly hold that weight loss culture has on adolescent girls and young women.
While she considered herself intellectually to be a researcher above all else, her work was directly linked to her own life and the lives of those she understood best. She was, especially between her undergraduate and graduate training, involved in “fat activism,” working to dispel the myths and prejudices about body image that prevail in almost every sector of American culture. Her great passion for learning and helping others also led her to form and direct a Galveston organization that created networks of support for LGBTQ individuals. One of the group’s main goals was helping to ensure that queer youth could live healthier, more fulfilling lives. She was fearless in insisting on the dignity of others and their right to be treated as equals, especially at a time and in a state when certain prejudices still endanger those goals. She will no doubt be missed by those she has helped, but she also expressed regret right up to the end at not being able to continue to work on behalf of others.
Her hobbies included reading, travel and all that nature has to offer, including camping at many state parks. As an avid amateur gardener she loved to visit botanical gardens across the world. When traveling she was most interested in cultural history and the experiences and lives of others. While there, she would immerse herself in and amongst the locals. She loved to rent an Airbnb in a quaint neighborhood, so she could explore the nearest park, dine in the local eateries and shop in the surrounding markets. Even in her final months on a visit to New Orleans she insisted on taking a tour to visit and learn about the varied architecture of the French Quarter as it pertained to national or ethnic identity, all with a cancer-necessitated oxygen tank in tow. She rarely visited a place without making a friend. When she was not devotedly busy raising her son, Willem, born only months before her cancer diagnosis, she was equally busy maintaining her parents xeroscape garden in Largo, FL (often saving a seemingly-rogue native bush from her father’s overzealous pruning shears) or planting native species (and decimating the invasive ones) in her own backyard in Galveston. As a lover and rescuer of animals, she also loved volunteering at the Galveston Humane Society.
She was a quick wit and adorably clumsy (a prominent family trait). When driving a rented Ford Econovan that we affectionately nicknamed the “van den van,” through Holland on a family summer visit to her Dutch relatives, she backed into a lamppost that took off part of the passenger door; she remarked “let’s hope Dutch car insurance is as good as Dutch health insurance.”
Her greatest passion was for her family. She will be forever loved by her wife and partner of 17 years, Toni, her son, Willem, her parents, Lodewijk and Jackie van den Berg of Largo FL, and her brother Christopher and his partner, Katie Edwards, as well as many relatives and friends, both here and abroad.
A visitation will be held at Malloy & Son Funeral Home, 3028 Broadway, Galveston, on Thursday, July 14, 2022 from 4 to 7 pm. All are welcome.
In lieu of flowers Patricia would have most appreciated a donation to one of her many passions; a local library, state park, animal shelter or LGBTQ youth organization.