Former University of Texas Dean of Women, Margaret Berry, passed away at 101 years old over the weekend. She led the 24-hour counseling hotline in the wake of the UT Tower shooting in 1966.
Berry told her story to the Texas Standard for the show’s oral history and documentary project “Out of the Blue: 50 Years After The UT Tower Shooting.”
Berry first came to Austin as freshman at the University of Texas in 1933. In 1960 she was hired as the associate dean of women.
During her time as associate dean, Charles Whitman shot 45 people from the observation deck of the UT Tower. In response, Berry worked with the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health and UT’s counseling center to help establish better accommodations for students dealing with mental health issues.
“We decided we needed a 24-hour counseling center because this young man [Whitman] sought help. He got a little at the counseling center but not as much as he needed,” Berry says.
Berry was asked to become the coordinator of the 24-hour counseling center, the first telephone counseling center of its kind in the U.S. She and four counselors worked day and night shifts during the school year, and even over holidays, to provide help to students.
“Sometimes a student would just call to say, ‘I just wanted to know you were there,’” Berry says.
Berry says the early success of the program has allowed it to remain in operation to this day.
“They did such a good job and we know they did or it wouldn’t have continued,” Berry says.
Written by Emma Whalen.