A Tribute to Jeffrey

This is a tribute to the late Jeffrey Unerman, my life partner of eighteen years, a wonderful man and a stammerer.

When I first met Jeffrey, his stammer struck me just as much as his positive, can-do attitude towards life. I embraced his stammer immediately as one of the many aspects of his great personality and a manifestation of the wonderful complexity of being human. However, I was also very aware that while my positive take on Jeffrey’s stammer meant I could appreciate him as a human being with all his strengths and natural vulnerabilities, for him stammering involved negotiating his speech uniqueness with himself and society, which inevitably brought up some anxieties. Before we met, he had gone through various speech therapies that taught him different techniques to better handle his communication. His stammer, however, came and went and some days were better than others. Sometimes, stammering seemed triggered by anxieties about unfamiliar places and people, including what most of us would regard as mundane activities such as answering the phone. But Jeffrey was a very determined and positive person and, as he joined a local therapy group, he became aware of the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children and started supporting it with regular donations.

Jeffrey had a strong passion for his job and for making a difference to people through it. He had a brilliant academic career which saw him working as a Professor of Sustainability Accounting at many prestigious institutions across the UK including Royal Holloway, the University of Manchester and Lancaster University as well as holding visiting academic positions worldwide in South Africa, Italy, Australia, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand and in Japan. He was an inspirational teacher and a prolific writer of textbooks which are still widely adopted by many courses. He was an exemplar Head of Department at Royal Holloway where he led over 100 staff.

His high-profile career earned him several accolades, including the 2016 British Accounting and Finance Distinguished Accounting Academic Award; membership of the governing Council of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales; membership of the Expert Panel of the Prince of Wales’s Accounting for Sustainability Project (through which he met the current monarch); and a prestigious appointment as a Freeman of the City of London.

Jeffrey achieved so much in his life and while his stammer never went away, he simply would not let it hold him back from his everyday life and from his long-term goals. Throughout all his career, Jeffrey never stopped reflecting on his experience of being a stammerer and how he had to deal with it. He was supporting charities Like Action for Stammering Children because he believed in the importance of the work of these associations around people like him and wanted everyone to have the very best support they can.

Sadly, Jeffrey passed away in November 2020 but his legacy is still very much present. He would have wanted stammerers like him to realise that, without trivialising nor pathologizing it, a speech impediment should not be seen as a limit to one’s life ambitions.

By Dr. Franco Zappettini

We are immensely grateful for Jeffrey’s long-standing support of the work we do at Action for Stammering Children. Thanks to Jeffrey’s generous gift, we have been able to support and empower many more children nationwide through specialist therapy, our mentoring programme and our wider advocacy work so that every child who stammers can access the support they need to thrive.



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