Ask Tarboro Rotarians about Joe Perry's commitment to their club and they will likely tell you it was second to none. As a matter of fact, some of them thought so highly of his service that they called him "Rotary Joe."
"Rotary Joe" died Wednesday after an extended illness. He was 89 years old.
"Joe Perry was perhaps the kindest and most generous man I have known," said Rotarian Buddy Hooks. "He was all about serving his fellow man in any way that he could. He made a lot of things happen through his efforts with Rotary International to get aid to poor countries. Yet, he did not want people to know it. He was humble, private, proud, a very strong Christian."
Perry served as president of Tarboro's club in 1983. As president, Perry was influential in raising $18,500 for Rotary's Polio Plus organization. He also held the position of treasurer for 20 years. In 2008, Perry was honored as Rotarian of the Year for Tarboro and the district.
In a story published in The Daily Southerner, Ed Roberson, the 2007-08 president, said when he sent the application nominating Perry for the district's Rotarian of the Year award, he asked "Who among us is defined by Rotary? Joe Perry lives by that motto, 'service above self.'"
Perry was faithful to the organization until his health began failing approximately one year ago.
Rotary didn't consume Perry's entire life. In 1956, the Hertford County native was hired as Edgecombe County Cooperative Extension Agent. Perhaps that job assisted in planting him as a viable citizen in the county. For 26 years he made valuable assessments on crops for Edgecombe County farmers.
Perry specialized in plant pathology for many of his Extension Service years. He was recognized for his efforts to help identify different tobacco diseases. Joe W. Dickens Jr.'s family was beneficial to Perry's knowledge of tobacco diseases.
"In the late 60's my dad had a tobacco crop that Mr. Perry diagnosed as having a fungus disease," said Joe W. Dickens Jr. "It it had not been for his expertise as an extension agent my dad would have lost a lot of money."
Dickens' experience with Perry goes even farther. In 1979, Perry hired Dickens as an extension agent. Dickens said working for Perry was rewarding.
"He was the kind of director that was concern about his employees," Dickens said. "He was a true gentlemen."
Perry's Extension Agent service and his Rotary commitment didn't go unnoticed by the public sector. In 2007, he was honored as the Edgecombe Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Citizen of the Year. During the event Perry said, "When I retired I said I would try to help somebody every day. But I never sought any publicity and don't want it. I'm Mr. Anonymous, the Candy Man."
Perry's wife of 53 years, Ann, can attest to that.
"He was a very private person," she said. He liked to do things behind the scene. His goal was to help people and that is what he did his entire life."
A graveside service for Perry will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Greenwood Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the following:
• A Memorial gift may be sent to the North Carolina Agricultural Foundation to benefit the Perry Scholarship Endowment, which will aid a student from Edgecombe County interested in the Agriculture program. Gifts should be made to NC AG Foundation (with Joe Perry in the memo line) and can be sent to NC State University; Campus Box 7645, Raleigh, NC 27695-7645.
• Donations may also be made to Service League Inpatient Hospice with a note on the memo line in memory of Joe L. Perry. Donations can be mailed to Vidant Health Medical Center; Service League of Greenville Inpatient Hospice; C/O VHMC Foundation; PO Box 8489; Greenville, NC 27835-8489