Jennifer Berthiaume: Murphy's own Wonder Woman
Mayor Pro Tem Jennifer Berthiaume has been preparing for her political service her entire life--even if she wasn’t meaning to. Although her family’s homebase was Northern Virginia, her parents’ public service careers meant they traveled extensively throughout her childhood. Berthiaume was born in Okinawa, Japan and spent time in Panama and Poland growing up.
The first time she recalls being exposed to politics was in Poland in the early 1990s. In the middle of the momentum of the Berlin Wall falling, President George Bush, Sr. visited Warsaw. Berthiaume’s dad took the family to Old Town to hear him speak: “we got right up there next to the fence line, so it was pretty awesome. That was the first real experience.” Growing up with service-oriented parents, Berthiaume thought she too would grow up and serve. “My goal from when I was a very little girl was ‘I’m gonna grow up and be a biochemist, and work for the CDC, and just save everybody.’” Her freshman year at the University of Nebraska at Kearney changed her mind. Exhausted and overwhelmed from biochemistry, she navigated towards English, Journalism, and finally, Geography. Geography felt natural to Berthiaume because she had lived around the world and experienced so many things. “I’m really fortunate that I was able to experience all those different cultures, different people.” These experiences combined with her parents’ encouragement to explore left Berthiaume underwhelmed with the idea of settling in Nebraska. Craving diversity, she decided to attend graduate school at Georgia State University in Atlanta, fell in love with the city, and then wandered to Texas for work a few years later. “I think I’m a wanderer at heart. I think I’m going to continue to wander.” Working as a technology consultant with a heavy emphasis in geospatial technology, Berthiaume had experience with government entities, including state departments of transportation, utility companies, and wastewater agencies. After moving to Murphy, Berthiaume bought her first home. With it came her first tax bill. Looking at the breakdown of her bill got Berthiaume thinking: “I know the infrastructure of the city really well, but I guess I don’t know all the mechanics of what goes on and how it affects me.” Berthiaume served on her city’s boards and commissions for years “to try to get a better understanding of Murphy specifically.” She spent time on both the Planning and Zoning board and Murphy Community Development Corporation, both positions well-suited to her strengths and interests. This mirrors her advice to other women interested in politics: “Get involved first, it doesn’t matter at what level. The more experience you get, the better you understand where you’d like to go and how you would like to serve.” Murphy is a city of 5.6 square miles with a population of approximately 20,000. Berthiaume cites the greatest issues facing her community as an unfortunate trifecta of fast growth, with little planning, while being “landlocked” by surrounding cities. This forced the city to tackle issues retroactively by trying to create a symbiotic commercial area and maintain strained infrastructure. “We’ve been working in the past couple years to have staff develop a dedicated Capital Improvements Plan, so we change from being a very reactive to a proactive city.” Berthiaume recently started her second three-year term at the City of Murphy. When we talked about her support system throughout her public service, it became clear that the most important and valuable support she gets is from her fiancé Ryan. “He has probably the most brilliant legislative mind I have ever encountered. We make a really good team.” Speaking specifically about her campaigns: “I could not have done this without Ryan. He gave me the strength, he helped me firm up answers, he made sure I researched what I needed to research.”