Professor Emeritus Simon Perry Memorialized by Many

Sarah Davis, Staff Reporter

Community members, family and friends gathered to honor Simon Perry, professor emeritus of Marshall’s political science department, on Friday, March 31. The ceremony was held at the Joan C. Edwards Playhouse.

His influence was hard to measure, said a colleague, speaking about the life of her friend.

“His impact is so immense, and it’s immense right now,” said Patricia Proctor, pre-law advisor and founding director for the Simon Perry Center for Constitutional Democracy, on the career of Dr. Simon Perry.

“He impacted my life tremendously, and he made me a better person. He made me a better thinker,” she said.

Perry died on Friday, Jan. 27, at the age of 92. He was the longest serving professor in Marshall history, instructing Marshall students for 48 years and teaching an additional three years at the University of Michigan. On the stage, 51 candles were lit to commemorate each year Perry taught at the college level.

Proctor estimated that Perry impacted over 20,000 students in his career. 

Perry received many awards in his lifetime, including the Distinguished West Virginian Award in 1988 and the College of Liberal Arts Outstanding Teacher Award in 2001 and 2004. Perry was also named one of the five 2007 “Living Legends” in Marshall Magazine.

However, Proctor believes Perry’s legacy is much deeper than the plaques.

“His legacy is his unyielding belief in social justice, his belief in civic education and civic literacy. His belief that people need to understand history,” Proctor said. “All of these things were so important to him.”

The ceremony began with the playing of “Appalachian Walls,” one of Perry’s favorite pieces of music. Marshall student Peyton Levi performed the song.

Those in attendance then heard from Perry’s friends and colleagues: Dr. David Woodward, professor emeritus of Marshall’s history department; Layton Cottrill, retired Marshall general counsel member; Dr. Marybeth Beller, Marshall political science professor and Dr. Montserrat Miller, Marshall history professor.

Woodward described the playful side of Perry and his many abilities, calling him an “impressive teacher.”

“Simon is really going to be missed by the former students and certainly by me,” he said. 

Cottrill spoke of his friend in a grand way.

“Simon was intellectually huge. Scholarly, he was huge. His personality was huge,” he said. “I will always admire the man.”

Beller shared her perspective of Perry as his student, saying that he was a highly-engaging professor.

“Simon was wise. He was warm. He was gracious, and we were so lucky to have him in our lives,” she said.

Miller read comments on the behalf of Phil Carter, a Marshall social work professor. Carter said that Perry had “positively impacted thousands of others over the years.”

“Simon was brilliant, inspiring, respected and approachable and always extolled the essentiality of democratic practices,” Miller said on behalf of Carter.

A video of Perry was played from Marshall’s 2009 Winter Commencement. Perry gave advice to the graduates.

“Turn off your television. Shut down your computer. Help your neighbor and build a better community,” Perry said to the audience. “To all of you who are graduating: join hands with others, make your community more just and more tolerant and more alive.”

Lawyer Paul Ryker and Huntington’s Mayor Steve Williams also spoke during the ceremony. 

Ryker served as the Perry family’s lawyer, in addition to being a former student and friend. He spoke of Perry’s body language and how it correlated with his passions.

“There’s too many important issues to not be active, and I think that’s what he taught,” he said. 

Williams reminisced on numerous memories with Perry, remembering him as a professor, coach, mentor and friend.

“Dr. Perry was an enabler,” Williams said. “He enabled idealistic young minds to mature into enlightened leaders.” 

Another of Perry’s beloved songs, “A Change is Gonna Come,” was then played again by Levi.  

To close out the memorial service, Perry’s granddaughter, Carolyn Vaziri, spoke of her grandfather, saying that, “His life was committed to the pursuit of justice.”

“He taught me that the history of yesterday is in fact the history of today,” she said.

A collection of Perry’s memorabilia was available for viewing after the ceremony, as well as a reception for those in attendance.