Berry Coleman | Coming Full Circle

Berry Coleman is back where he began. In 1985, he started working as a public safety officer at 155 Fifth Street, which was then home to Crocker National Bank. “My very first day on the job, the Wells Fargo Corporation took over Crocker Bank,” Coleman explains. “It was a merger—so we went from being Crocker employees to Wells Fargo employees.”

At the time, the facility served as a data operations center. Coleman recalls the building filled with hundreds of people processing checks, massive areas with computers and rooms that were temperature-controlled to protect the data. The computers were “a little primitive,” but Coleman describes it as an exciting time, “the dawn of technology.”

Coleman’s eventful first day at 155 Fifth Street in 1985 was just one data point in a web of coincidences. Before moving to California, he worked as a corporate security officer for America Natural Resources in his home state of Michigan. On his first day at work, the company was acquired in a hostile takeover. “I guess corporate takeovers have a way of following me around,” he jokes. “It was a really odd coincidence.”

In January 1987, Coleman moved to a position as lead patrol officer at the Dugoni School of Dentistry—then located on Webster Street. He has worked for the dental school ever since, and this year, a twist of fate has brought him back to the location of his first job in California. “They say significant things happen in threes,” Coleman observes.

Almost 30 years after working at the 155 Fifth Street building, viewing the site after its renovation as the new Dugoni School of Dentistry campus was a surreal experience for Coleman. “When I look at the bones of the place, I can visualize a lot of the data center,” he says. “It was a weird feeling because I could see the places where I used to patrol in the building, especially when walking through the construction site.”

Transition can be difficult, and Coleman and the security team have played a vital role in helping the Pacific Dugoni family settle into the new campus. The neighborhood itself is in transition, pulsing with a life of its own in an atmosphere that Coleman calls “kinetic.” He advises the school community to be patient and work together as they become attuned to their new surroundings.

As a sergeant in the Division of Public Safety, Coleman strives for a balance between being professional and personable. “One of the unique challenges is to keep an atmosphere of comfort and calm while presenting an image of authority,” he says. “The spirit of our department is of service and of helpfulness, being a conduit of information and matching people to what they need and where they need to be.”

He encourages others to be good listeners, to identify needs and to assess situations. “Each individual carries a different viewpoint, and you have to be cognizant that you can’t lump all people together,” Coleman says. “You have to learn to listen, that’s the first thing, and when you listen you’ll usually find out what you need to know.”

Coleman wipes the slate clean and starts fresh every morning. “I’m still learning every single day,” he says. “That keeps the job fresh for me and very rewarding.” It might be easy to grow cynical or complacent, but Coleman is constantly seeking opportunities for growth.

One of the unique challenges is to keep an atmosphere of comfort and calm while presenting an image of authority.

While Coleman spends his days keeping the calm on campus, he goes home to a “very quiet life in Oakland” with his wife, Sandra, “the light of my life; my very best friend,” to whom he has been married for 32 years. Coleman describes the two of them as “book-ish people.” He enjoys books on politics and history, recently finishing Edmund Morris’ three-part biography on Theodore Roosevelt. Ask him about film, and he launches into a discussion of his favorite film era, Italian Neorealism, and one of his favorite directors, Vittorio De Sica, whose poignant films captured life in Italy after World War II.

The Colemans also enjoy visiting art galleries to add to their African art collection, which they have carefully curated throughout the years. “We don’t have a lot of stuff, but the stuff we have is something that we took a lot of time to pick out and did a lot of research and studied it,” he says.

There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes in the Public Safety that many may take for granted. Creating an atmosphere that is both welcoming and safe requires a sharp eye, careful listening skills, keen intuition and a good sense of humor. Coleman has the chance to hone those skills both at and outside of work, whether he is overseeing security at dental school events or browsing for the perfect piece of art to add to his collection.

What does Coleman make of all the coincidences in his career and life trajectory? “There’s a saying, life is a circle,” he says. “I feel that maybe my life is now coming full circle. And, we’ll see which way it goes.”