For the love of learning

Jennifer and John Berryman with their horseThe Berrymans have a long history with UTS, but it was their work in bringing print literature to the blind that brought them together.

They first met in 1978. “She looked at me, did a double-take, and said, ‘From your voice I thought you were about 50!’ I was only 20-something at the time,” recalls John Berryman with a laugh. “60,” interrupts his wife, Jennifer, also laughing. “I thought you were 60!”

At the time, John was producing braille for the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC) and onselling to libraries. Jennifer, who had recently acquired a Graduate Diploma of Library Science from the Kuring-gai College of Advanced Education (KCAE), was working as a librarian at the Royal Blind Society (RBS) and was in the market for braille publications. John was invited to visit her library with some samples. The pair worked together professionally for three years before their relationship became more personal, and they married in 1982.

Remarkably, John and Jennifer hold a total of 11 tertiary qualifications between them – six gained at UTS and its antecedent institutions, the NSW Institute of Technology (NSWIT) and KCAE.

John was working in IT with a science degree when he joined the RIDBC. They’d just purchased an application suite for producing braille by computer and, needing to extend his knowledge of the programming language, he took up study in the Graduate Diploma of Data Processing at NSWIT.

“It was a very different campus in 1979,” he recalls. “I remember there was an Asian restaurant behind the tower building. There was this very rustic building … I used to have dinner there after work and before class.”

When John moved into an administrative role with the RIDBC, he enrolled in the Graduate Diploma of Social Administration at KCAE. When he was appointed CEO, he again chose KCAE when upgrading the qualification to a Masters. Later, when approaching retirement, John thought he might like to teach English. He added a UTS Graduate Diploma in TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) to his credentials and spent a few years teaching part-time.

Jennifer’s commitment to education is just as exceptional. Working in a library as an arts graduate, her employer encouraged her to enrol as part of the inaugural cohort for the Graduate Diploma of Library Science at KCAE.

“I remember the incredibly green carpet … really bright lime green,” she recalls of her time studying in the iconic building in Lindfield. “But the bush setting was just exquisite.”

She fondly remembers inspirational teachers, including the former head of the school and then Deputy Chancellor of UTS, Professor Margaret Trask. “She was just such a leader,” Jennifer recalls.

A Graduate Certificate in Public Administration from Griffith University and a Master of Management at the Macquarie Graduate School of Management soon followed, after which she took on what she describes as an ‘accidental PhD’ at UTS.

“I was getting a bit bored in my job and one of my colleagues had just finished her PhD, so I thought I’d have a coffee with her and find out what was involved.” What she hadn’t considered was that her colleague would be on the hunt for students to supervise, turning up at the café with an application form filled out on Jennifer’s behalf, a thesis topic already determined, awaiting her signature. The thesis she ultimately produced won the prestigious UK-based Emerald/EMFD Doctoral Award for Library Science.

In her 25 years with the State Library of New South Wales, Jennifer has seen her field change dramatically through technology. Earlier this year she wrapped up a major capital project to ensure electronic catalogue records for the library’s entire collection. She’s now managing the significant process of revaluing the library’s $2.1 billion collection, one of the state’s highest-value assets.

John has also witnessed a similar evolution in technology. In his 33 years with RIDBC, he established an array of programs designed to fundamentally improve the lives of blind and deaf children. Thanks in large part to him, newborns across Australia are now screened for hearing loss within 24 hours of birth, and babies as young as eight weeks can be fitted with hearing aids. Then health minister, Craig Knowles acknowledged this as the most significant development in his time in office.

Under John’s leadership, the RIDBC successfully integrated deaf and blind children into mainstream independent schools, and set up programs to train specialist teachers. Around 700 graduates of these programs are now working in schools and facilities around Australia and across the world.

His impact has been recognised with numerous accolades, including being appointed a Member of the Order of Australia. It’s an honour that he seems quite humble about, remarking, “CEO’s get singled out for these kinds of things,” before turning the attention to the achievements of his colleagues.

The couple plans to spend some time in Europe, most probably Hungary, where John’s parents are from. The timeline on this is up in the air – their much-loved 15-year-old kelpie fox terrier cross, Lissy, just couldn’t manage the trip and they can’t bear the thought of rehoming her or cutting her golden years short. There’s also their younger dog, Zorro, and a horse named Stella stabled at Duffys Forest, to think of.

“It’s probably still two or three years away,” says Jennifer.

Story: Jenifer Waters
Photography: Kevin Cheung