James M. Perry
James M. Perry
September 26th, 1925-December 21st, 2008
One of the magnetic strips on Jim Perry’s refrigerator in Las Vegas reads, If life is a play, I want better parts. Actually, Jim had many fine parts, on stage and off, in the eighty three years before his final curtainon December 21st, 2008.
Born on September 26th, 1925 in Cincinnati, Ohio, James McKinley Perry was the fourth son of Robert and Elizabeth Perry and is survived by his older brother Bob and eight nieces and nephews. Due to chronic sinus and ear infections, he and his family spent the winter months during his early years in warmer southern climes of Florida, Southern California and Mexico, eventually settling in Santa Barbara in the fall of 1937.
After several years here, they moved farther south, where Jim and his older twin brothers attended Beverly Hills High School. With World War II raging, after high school he enlisted in the Navy and was assigned to the officer’s candidate program at the University of Illinois, graduating after the war with a degree in civil engineering. Returning to Santa Barbara, he was hired by the California Highway Department to supervise the construction of the large culverts and bridges needed to upgrade the portion of 101 West to Gaviota.
Still single and draft eligible when the Korean conflict erupted, he applied for a commission, this time in the Air Force, but was required to enlist until it was approved. As a private he was assigned to the Army language school in Monterey to study Russian and subsequently monitored Soviet aircraft conversations in Germany. Eventually commissioned, he spent the remainder of his second military ‘part’ attending the Air Force communication school in St. Louis.
Returning once more to Santa Barbara , Jim turned from engineering to real estate and after working for several local agencies obtained his real estate broker’s license and opened Mission Realty. It was during this period that he developed what would be his life long enthusiasm for the theatre. Both acting and helping backstage in numerous plays produced by the Repertory Playhouse (located in the converted Unitarian Church on Arlington Avenue), he met his future wife Ruth Wathey, an artist who worked in her father’s portrait photography studio on upper State Street. Their life together reflected their shared dramatic interests and they eventually bought an old adobe structure in Mission Canyon, which featured a living room capable of seating select audiences of up to sixty people who attended the various plays they produced with friend and noted stage and screen actor Brad Dillman.
In 1961, Jim was hired as Santa Barbara’s Assistant City Planner and wrote much of the city’s first general plan. After fifteen years, he retired briefly before returning as Assistant Director of Community Development in charge of Land Use Controls and designated the Chief Building Official. Five years later, he again retired and moved with his wife to June Lake, California, to develop eight single family cabins in a joint venture with his good friend Bob Foreman. But after several years there, his wife Ruth suffered an inoperable brain tumor from which she did not recover. Returning to Santa Barbara, Jim was employed as Director of Maintenance and Development for the city’s Housing Authority until his final retirement in 1993. Moving to Las Vegas, he acted in local theatre productions and became active with the Friends of the Las Vegas Library, serving on its board of directors until his death.
Although Jim’s contributions to the community were many, the greatest may have come from his love of the theatre. Acting in many venues, including at the Santa Barbara City College Garvin Theatre with the Unitarian Players, in 1989 he put down roots at the Circle Bar B Dinner Theatre where he performed for fifteen years. Jim delighted audiences in more than ten productions at the Circle Bar B, where a reviewer once said of him, “Perry is pure joy and fills the stage with every entrance.” His fellow actors and patrons would agree.
As the most enjoyable and memorable times of Jim’s last years were at the Circle Bar B Theatre, it is quite appropriate that a non-religious memorial remembrance will be held there at 2 p.m. on Sunday, January 25th (unless there is heavy rain that would make travel on Refugio Road hazardous). Friends wishing to attend are requested to RSVP by contacting his brother Bob at 805-958-1951 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org no later than Thursday, January 22nd.