Passion for education drives new director
Published: 3 February 2013
By: Robin Williams
Pam Betts: "Young people aren't our future we've had our future, but they make their own future"
ALL Pam Betts ever wanted to be was a teacher.
Although she obtained an Environmental Science degree straight out of school, her first job would suggest a higher authority might have agreed with that aim.
"After three years I thought it was important to get some experience within the workforce and started work in 1980 as the planning assistant for Brisbane Catholic Education," she said.
After two years helping to plan future schools, the passionate desire to teach was still there and Pam went back to university and completed her Diploma of Education majoring in Mathematics and Geography.
The dream had finally become reality and 30 years on the Brisbane southside girl, a proud and passionate old girl of St Elizabeth's Primary School, Ekibin and Our Lady's College, Annerley, where she was school captain in 1976, has just taken over the reins of the top job at Brisbane Catholic Education.
Talking to Pam in late January, the executive director role at Brisbane Catholic Education seems a good fit for the woman who has racked up an impressive work and volunteer record over those 30 years.
It's a work history that kept bringing her back to BCE in some form or another.
After spending her first teaching year at St Mary's College, Ipswich, a position came up with her alma mater, Our Lady's College, Annerley where she taught for the next two years.
It might have been longer as Pam loves her history with the College and maintains a host of friendships from her school days, but an opportunity came up to travel overseas.
She proudly confesses the Betts' are a "rugby'" family and she spent her time with her brother Anthony who had a contract to play for an Irish club.
"Growing up I'd class us as a rugby family, my dad (Neil) played Rugby for Australia. He was a front row forward," she said.
Pride and love shine through when Pam talks about her family particularly her father and his achievements.
"He received an OAM (Order of Australia Medal) for contribution to rugby union, he played with Fabian McCarthy who was Fr Michael McCarthy's father," she said.
Pam said both her parents were generous in terms of the voluntary hours they contributed to a club her father helped form on Brisbane's south side and passed on that example of giving back to their children.
Returning from overseas Pam settled back into teaching, first at St Peter Claver College, Riverview for four years then on to All Hallows', Fortitude Valley, where she stayed until 1993 when she returned to BCE.
"I keep coming back to Brisbane Catholic Education, it keeps calling me," Pam said.
That position was assistant to the director that required both tertiary qualifications and teaching experience.
Pam spent the next six and a half years in the job, the last year working with David Hutton whom she pays tribute to for "his wonderful leadership and his great support of this organisation".
A 12-month contract with Queensland Catholic Education Commission to help implement the GST in Catholic schools would turn into four years before Pam was "called" to move on again.
"I loved it, it was fascinating, I had to learn about GST because everyone else around Australia was an accountant and I was a Maths teacher," she said.
"I said to them 'if I can do calculus I think I can do GST' so I put my head to learning as much as I could about GST."
She left QCEC to take up a position with the Christian Brothers.
"That was a fantastic experience as I loved working with the brothers and I loved working with their schools," she said.
"The brothers were wonderful to work with and I was very grateful for all of the opportunities that they gave me and I remain grateful to them to this day."
In July 2010 Pam returned to BCE.
"I keep getting drawn back here and I love Brisbane Catholic Education. I love working here," she said.
"I took up the position of director administrative services and little did I know and never did I ever dream that I would be in the position of executive director because I just immerse myself in what I'm doing at the time and something then comes along and taps me on the shoulder."
Pam said she had been "truly blessed" by the opportunities she'd been given.
"I applied for the executive directors job and I was very humbled to be chosen to lead this great organisation, it's a great privilege," she said.
Pam is a woman of deep faith that has developed over the years.
"I genuinely believe that I've been graced during my journey particularly with the many opportunities that I've been given and I look at them as a blessing and a privilege not as a right," she said.
"At times I'll say (to God) what exactly are you trying to tell me here. "
God may be telling her that she's on the right track with her passion for Catholic education and working with young people - one of the things that drive her.
"I think that in education there is so much that we can do to help young people in their journey, to give them hope for the future and that notion of hope is really important to young people in this day and age," she said.
"I think that in Catholic education, because we can talk about the story of Jesus, because we can help young people to develop a relationship with God we can actually work with them to give them some hope for their future.
"Young people aren't our future, we've had our future, but they make their own future.
"To give them hope we need to give them the best possible Catholic education we can and that's it in a nutshell for me."
Pam was keen to point out that Catholic education always went hand-in-hand with students' families.
"Parents are the first educators of their children but we can do so much to support parents," she said.
This drive goes back to Pam's own upbringing and an acknowledgment that it was "one of great blessings".
"Mum and dad are both still alive and they placed particular importance on our education, but allowed us to be who we wanted to be as well, so that's been a real blessing," she said.
She said that wasn't always so for today's youth.
"The support of family is absolutely invaluable and I know there are many young people who don't necessarily have that blessing of the support of family, so if school can give them some sort of safety and security during their formative years I think that's really important," she said.
Over the years, Pam has forged close relationships with many religious institute schools and the charisms of the orders that run them have impacted and deepened her faith.
She believes it's a way of giving back.
"Until Thursday (January 31) I'm chair of the All Hallows school board and have been for the last three years and I've been on that board for five years," she said.
"I've been on the St Rita's (Clayfield) board, the Padua College Board, the Villanova (College) board, the St Ursula's, Toowoomba board and I'll probably leave some out here, but have also been on Marist Schools Australia and until the end of last year I was a member of Lourdes Hill and I was also a member of Good Samaritan Education."
Some of those charisms have resonated with Pam.
"I've got the rule of St Benedict over there on my desk, the Benedictine tradition that spoke to me was 'listen with the ear of the heart'. I loved that," she said.
Role models such as Catherine McAuley and St Mary of the Cross MacKillop also inspired her.
"I think those women are great role models for an impact on my own spirituality," She said.
The Edmund Rice story however was perhaps the biggest impact on Pam's spirituality.
"That spirituality of Edmund Rice Education around Presence, Compassion and Liberation I was actually able to embrace that in the work that I did with their schools and it gives you a great touchstone, or lens if you like, through which you can see the Gospel," she said.
Pam's new leadership role at BCE began on February 1.