2018 Northern Virginian of the Year: Emma and Derrick Dockery

Emma Dockery and her husband, former NFL football player Derrick Dockery, created a nonprofit to support military families and educate civilians.

Photo by Robert Merhaut

Derrick Dockery’s 10-year NFL career—Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills—got its start at the University of Texas, where he met his “lovely, beautiful wife,” Emma.

“It was freshman year, 1999, I was walking around campus and I see this guy that is probably the largest human being I’ve ever seen in my life and I’m like, ‘Hi!’” recalls Emma. Today, the couple lives in Ashburn with their three children: Madison, Makenzie and DJ, short for Derrick Johnathan.

On her way home from church in 2012, Emma got the call: her 24-year-old brother, Army Sgt. David Williams, paid the ultimate price fighting for our country in Afghanistan.

“You’re standing at Dover Air Force Base … and even though you’ve seen it in movies, nothing can ever prepare you for what goes through your mind in that moment,” explains Emma. “There’s someone who I said goodbye to knowing he’s going to be fine, I’ll see him when he comes back, and for him to come back the way he did was very traumatic.”

For her George Washington University Master’s Capstone project that same year, Emma created Yellow Ribbons United (YRU), a nonprofit initially serving children of the fallen, but now helping civilians understand and appreciate the sacrifices military families, not just service members, make.

“At the time, I was trying to process this being a sister, but imagine what this would have been like if it had been my husband, it if had been Derrick,” says Emma, a military child herself. “We made a switch to serve all military children because we felt like … these little heroes, they each have different backstories, different experiences that make them heroes.”

YRU holds an annual Winter Wonderland holiday party at the Ritz Carlton and on Armed Forces Day holds a United in Play event with the Washington Redskins. On Veterans Day, the nonprofit will host a birthday party for military children at American Girl in Tysons Corner.

But when they’re not busy doing good for the military community, the Dockerys enjoy life’s little things: going to church, running errands, watching the kids play sports and catching the latest movie release.

“Whatever the event of the day or the hour is, we just love being around each other,” says Derrick.

(2018 Northern Virginians of the Year, June 2018)

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