When we sit down to interview Gerry Murray, it’s fair to say he’s not looking delighted to be in the spotlight. A no-nonsense, ‘sleeves-up’ professional, we sense he’d rather be on the ground, supporting his clients and his team. But Gerry’s story should be told. It’s one of purpose and resilience… of a career spanning three decades, helping and empowering society’s most vulnerable.
A very human journey
Gerry has been with us for over two years, first as Manager at Werrington before recently moving to our Glebe National Office to lead our Central Sydney team. To say this man brings a wealth of experience to our organisation is a glaring understatement; Gerry has been involved in the Human Services sector since he was 17 years old.
Born in the UK to Irish parents, the drive to help people is in Gerry’s blood.
“My mum had an overwhelming sense of social justice which she instilled in us as kids; it was not optional. So at 17, I started volunteering in disability services at a local hospital.”
Seemingly keen to ensure we don’t get too sentimental, Gerry adds with his characteristic dry wit, “I was also considering a Social Work degree so I had to show some interest.”
He went on to study a Bachelor of Science, Psychology and Sociology in London before beginning his career in Human Services. Over the last 30 years, it might be easier to list the areas Gerry hasn’t worked in, with contributions made across Adolescent Residential Care, Disability Services, Aged Care, and Day Hospital facilities.
Gerry has always been interested in human nature and social ethics, so in the early 90’s he returned to University full-time to pursue a Degree in Philosophy and Cultural Studies. This was a particularly testing time for Gerry, juggling the pressures of work, study and family commitments.
“At the time my daughter was very young and we were financially perplexed. I wanted to study full-time so the course wouldn’t take too long and I could immerse myself in the challenge of returning to study. It meant studying at Uni from Monday to Friday, and working in respite care on Friday nights, Saturday and Sunday.”
What drives Gerry
After his degree, Gerry intended to make a career change and teach. Yet he shares that somehow he found himself back in Disability Services.
“I guess I just feel really comfortable in this environment. The work we do is important. This industry teaches you to reflect on your own life and recognise what holds deep meaning and how you measure satisfaction and wellbeing.”
When asked why he chooses to work for The Benevolent Society, Gerry points to the flexibility, respect and trust that he experiences, which he says enable him to do his work.
“I feel that I am being listened to, and I know that my opinion is valued. I also feel trusted to go about my work and manage my team independently, which is important to me.”
For Gerry, surviving and thriving in a changing disability sector is about focusing on the successes for his staff and most importantly for the people they support. Without that, he says, you’ll either “fall apart, start taking yourself far too seriously or start reading very obscure philosophical tracts in a search for wisdom!”
“It’s a very rewarding field but it’s also extremely challenging. You have to enjoy the impact you have but also cope with the reality of failure – recognising that you couldn’t always get the outcomes you wanted and hoped for. We work hard to celebrate those small steps forward – steps that are meaningful in the life of the person you are supporting. That may be a child taking their first step unaided due to the support and work of a Therapist; or a young person riding the bus independently for the first time, due to a programme that was facilitated. These are such special moments for the person involved and you cannot help but just sit and smile.
Permission to be himself
As a Team Leader of a mobile group of employees, Gerry works hard to stay connected and support those he manages. However, he’s quick to dispel any myths about ‘the perfect leader’:
“I think my colleagues would say I’m committed to what I do, but not without fault or failure. I don’t put myself up as being a perfect being. But I hope they would never question my absolute commitment to achieving meaningful outcomes, even if I’m making mistakes in the process. I try to admit when I get things wrong and if I don’t my colleagues have a kind sensibility in letting me know. This is how we all learn collaboratively.”
And when it comes to what’s best for clients, Gerry is uncompromising.
“I believe in providing a just and worthwhile service to every individual. This is something that the client can’t always control, but we can and I am not very flexible or tolerant about compromising on that. In this industry, you need to keep a clear understanding of what you’re doing and why it’s important. Without that, you really need to consider a career change.”
With such an involved role, it’s hard to believe that Gerry has the headspace to engage in hobbies after hours. He shares, however, that he needs to wind down.
“Working with my hands is a good de-stresser for me. I do a lot of gardening and I’m pretty mad on food. I enjoy cooking, and also make jam. I don’t particularly love that, to be honest, but am happy to fill my friends with sugar if needed, which they seem to enjoy.”
“I’m also into DIY at the moment; I’ve pretty much pulled our house apart and rebuilt it, by watching videos on Google. There’s a good chance I have missed an episode as I appear to be missing a door.”
His motivation for overhauling the family home, step by step, seems to perfectly mirror his dedication to his career and to social justice.
“I like the idea of taking on the seemingly impossible, and achieving a positive outcome, bit by bit, whilst recognising our fallibility – Tis Life.”