Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Sid Salter: Remembering Ed Perry

State Rep. Felix Edwin “Stump” Perry was one of the most effective legislators in the long history of the Mississippi House, but it was the style with which Ed carried out his legislative duties that made Ed’s passing last week at age 76 statewide news.

 Perry’s legislative pedigree is legendary. He was elected to the state House of Representatives from Lafayette County in 1967 and served 32 consecutive years or eight terms before retiring in 1999. While serving in the House, Perry at various junctures chaired the Appropriations, Constitution, Judiciary, and Municipalities committees.
Perhaps better than most, Perry understood that immense power that came from chairing the House Appropriations Committee and he used that power to benefit public education at all levels. But Ed’s loyalty to his Ole Miss alma mater was keenly evident.

During that time, Perry would summon Dr. Donald Zacharias, the thoughtful president of Mississippi State University, to testify before his committee and give him a fair hearing of the legislative “wish list” for the Starkville university. He likewise provided forums for the state’s other seven higher education institutions.

In that way, Perry would tell me, it made it easier to fund projects for the whole of higher education in Mississippi by not favoring his school over the other seven.

After his House retirement, the members elected him as Clerk of the House in 2000. Perry retired from that post in March 2004. He served as municipal attorney for the City of Oxford for 19 years and served 12 years as attorney to the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors.

Ed’s diminutive physical stature invited the nickname “Stump” and he wore it well, actually turning it to his advantage. On any number of occasions when Ed was speaking, a colleague from the back of the House floor would call on him to “stand up” while another would quickly answer that “he already is.”

In his prime, Ed’s challenged height was accentuated by a thick neck, short arms and a face reddened by exertion or the passion with which he was delivering a speech on the floor of the House. Ed’s prowess as a speaker was unmatched and neither his size nor the high pitch of his voice lessened his impact.

As lawmakers often said in deference to Perry: “Ed Perry could evermore shuck the corn.” Following his death, much has been made of Ed’s spot-on rendition of the fiery and rhetorically side-stepping 1952 “whiskey speech” delivered by former state representative, judge, and law professor Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat. To be sure, Ed could charm any audience large or small with his performance. But Ed was enthralled with all powerful speakers who could mesmerize audiences, not just Judge Sweat. He greatly admired the oratory of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy.

Back in 1982, Perry was among the inner circle of close friends of Mississippi author Willie Morris. Along with then Mayor John Leslie, Ed Morgan, Charles Henry, Clyde Goolsby, and David Sansing, Perry was one of the central figures in Willie’s life during his time as writer-in-residence at Ole Miss.

In those days, interlopers at Willie’s 16 Faculty Row bungalow on the campus on any given evening might encounter writers such as Larry L. King, William Styron, Larry McMurtry, David Halberstam, Winston Groom, George Plimpton and Mississippi journalists Orley Hood, Rick Cleveland, or Billy Watkins.

Those visiting luminaries were usually joined by a revolving collection of students, barflies, and camp followers, including elected officials on numerous occasions. “The oil of conversation” as Judge Sweat famously referred to whiskey, usually flowed. The conversations among that group was nothing short of fascinating.

Ed Perry captivated them all. Few who met Perry forgot him. His legislative legacy was simple – “be as good as your word.”

“Stump” Perry left state government in Mississippi far better than he found it by sticking to that creed.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.


7 comments:

Has Salter Switched Gears? said...

Great Article! I remember the man, vaguely but this brings him back to life, for me. This article was a much better read than Sid's usual pontifications.

I'd like to see a similar article about Greenville's Sonny Meredith including the unequaled artistry with which he hornswaggled the legislature into approving dockside-gambling. They say Sonny could read a bill once and thereafter be able to quote it precisely, never referring back to printed copy. I hope Salter will consider an article about Sonny.

CK said...

As in Casablanca, “we will always have Paris.” Today, I say, “We will always have the Ed Perry tapes.”

Unknown said...

The man was typical of most who serve in legislative positions for that length of time - they become a legend in their own mind.

Anonymous said...

I practiced law with Sonny Merideth decades back. He was a true genius with a mind like a bear trap.

Anonymous said...

Another one died this week, I guess Sid will talk about that next week instead of the plight of Mississippians affected by the Trump Shutdown.

Anonymous said...

Oh to have been a fly on the wall from those late night committee meetings or late nights at Willie’s house. They say the secret to Ed’s success is that though it was short, his right leg was hollow.

From what I saw, he was always a kind gentleman to others.

Let's Make This One About Trump Too.. said...

5:16; We don't need Sid for that as long as we have you and the other geniuses sitting in the bleachers tossing spit-balls, scratching your nut-sack and moaning about your president while ignoring his accomplishments.

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If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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