Perry has seen many changes
Published 2:03 pm Wednesday, August 13, 2003
By BY LYDIA GRIMES, Feature Writer
Tom Perry is not a Brewton native but he has been here long enough to seem like one. He has been a resident of Brewton since 1951 when he came to work at Southern Pine Electric Cooperation.
One of the main reasons he came to Brewton to work was so that he could stay at home with his family. He had been working with the United States Department of Agriculture as an inspector with the Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine. His territory was so large that he was gone from home a lot.
Perry was told about the job in Brewton by a friend he had gone to school with at Auburn. He took a pay cut to move. He was given a salary of $300 a month, to come to Southern Pine as a Member Service Director under the leadership of Joe Larkins, General Manager.
In 1961, he was promoted to general manager of Southern Pine when Joe Larkins retired. He served the company well for the next 25 years in that capacity. The company grew and expanded under his leadership.
He served as president of both the Alabama Rural Electric Association of Cooperatives in Montgomery and Alabama Electric Cooperative in Andalusia.
Although he retired in 1986, his leadership was not forgotten and at the 2003 Annual Meeting of the Alabama Rural Electric Association of Cooperatives, he was awarded the Bill Nichols Award. This is an award that was established to honor individuals who have made an outstand contribution to the rural electrification program in the State of Alabama. Perry was the 12th recipient of the award.
Perry was born into a family of five children in Fayette County. His father had been a cowboy in the early 1900s and lived out west where he worked on cattle drives. Perry tells one story that his dad once ended a drive in Kansas City and was paid for the cattle. He got a room in a hotel and a few minutes later someone knocked on his door and tried to rob him. He stuck his finger in his pocket and told the man he better go or he would shoot him with his gun. At that time he was making the sum of 10 cents an hour.
After his dad came back to Alabama he went into farming and although not wealthy, the family got along all right.
Perry grew up in the days of the depression and money was scarce.
He attended Hubbertville High School and after graduating in 1938, he entered Harding College in Arkansas and spent a year there before transferring to Auburn in the fall of 1939.
He did his basic training and because of the amount of education that he had, he was recommended to train to be a meteorologist. After training and spending some time in the states he was sent to Africa. He spent the rest of the war there making sure that the military knew what the weather was going to be.
He returned home in 1946, went back to college at Auburn and graduated in 1947. He taught school in Georgiana for a couple of years, but found that being a teacher was not something he enjoyed. That is when he went to work with the Department of Agriculture.
He met Reba Avant on a trip to Montgomery and courted her at Auburn football games that were played there. They were married in 1947 and became the parents of four children, Mike, Susan, Don and Ann and are now the grandparents of seven. The children and grandchildren are now scattered around the United States. One of the grandsons was a winner on "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire" and then went on to win another large amount in another game.
The Perrys are members of First Baptist Church of Brewton where he taught Sunday School for many years. Right after he retired in 1986 the couple did quite a bit of traveling.
Tom Perry is an interesting man and has seen many things over his lifetime. He decided to write some of his memories down for his children and grandchildren so that they could see what it was like growing up in the times that he did. The result was a little book "A Walk Across the Stage" that is full of the things that most people his age can identify. He has also written articles for the Alabama Heritage Series for Escambia and Fayette Counties.