Longtime Councilman ‘Walks the Walk’
Family and colleagues talk about Jack Perry's leadership, as he says goodbye to more than two decades of public service.
For Colleen Gruber, who grew up in a town where everyone knew her dad, leisurely walks with the family were far from ordinary.
Gruber, known by many as the “baby” of retired Councilman Jack Perry’s six children, has fond memories of her father visiting with constituents while out for evening strolls.
“We’d go for walks after dinner and my sister, Jen, and I would always bring our bikes,” Gruber, 27, said. “We joked that we were going for a ‘walk’ and dad was going for a ‘talk,’ because if we saw anyone outside or sitting on their porch, he’d always go up and talk to them, and we would end up riding our bikes around the neighborhood.”
This month Perry ended 26 years of public service as a District 2 city councilman, a position he held from 1979 to 1983 and from 1989 to 2011. The decision to not seek re-election was a mutual decision between himself and his wife, Kathleen.
“[The job] has gotten old, and I’ve gotten older,” he said.
And although Perry, 69, cannot point to one accomplishment from his tenure that makes him “most proud,” he said he “feels good about all of them.”
Perry’s oldest son Sean was 9 years old when he saw his dad get sworn in for his first term. It was in the same room 26 years later, during a reception honoring Perry, that he saw his dad say goodbye to a distinguished career in public service.
“Sitting in the exact same room, it was sad and emotional, but really it was just a great occasion to know what he accomplished in that room for all of those years,” Sean, 41, said.
Entering Public Service
Born in 1942, Perry said he never dreamed of going into public service as he was growing up in Washington, D.C. He attended the majority of city council meetings, and even the worksessions, because “that’s where you heard everything.”
His feelings about public service changed when he was elected to the city council in 1979.
“I wasn’t enthused about the gentleman who was there, and I said, ‘Well hell, I’ll give it a shot. I think can do this job,’” Perry said.
District 4 City Councilwoman Denise Mitchell called Perry an “institution” and said his leadership on the council will be sorely missed.
“The man is really passionate about his city,” Mitchell said. “He was always straight. There was no in-between. He always gave you the rational.”
Mitchell said she will remember Perry’s commitment to public safety, transportation — especially the Route 1 corridor — and making sure residents had reliable services that were offered on a regular basis.
Former District 1 City Councilman Dave Milligan said Perry’s frequent dissenting opinion was important to the council’s effectiveness.
“Jack and I always got along well,” Milligan said. “[But] Jack could be frustrating, because he would always play devil’s advocate.”
“It’s good to have somebody to keep you in check,” Milligan said.
Perhaps Perry’s greatest legacy during his tenure as city councilman came after the meetings were adjourned. Perry’s children have witnessed his lead-by-example approach and in turn, learned many life lessons as they watched their dad lead both their community and their family.
“The best way he led us was by letting us lead ourselves through his example,” Gruber said. “Both he and my mom pushed us to be independent and pushed us to be leaders.”
“I was a leader at my college and went into management [after graduating], and I would not have had the courage to do that if I hadn’t seen my dad’s leadership the whole time,” Gruber said.
Sean echoed his sister’s sentiments.
“He’s always been very proud of the family and he’s always provided for us,” Sean said. “But it is our work ethic that’s derived from seeing him work so hard all of these years. It’s something he has instilled in us and passed down to us, so we can pass [it] on to our children and our families as well.”
As Perry and his wife sifted through stacks of documents compiled during his tenure, he said he has no major plans for retirement, but looks forward to attending city council meetings periodically and staying active in the community.
Whether on a “walk” with his daughters or offering a dissenting opinion at a city council worksession, the most important thing for Perry is that he always remains thankful.
“I wake up every morning, look in the mirror, thank God and take it one day at a time,” Perry said. “I treat every day as if it’s a gift.”