At 82, Elder L. Tom Perry is working on his pitching arm. Why? Because he will throw out the first pitch of the Boston Red Sox baseball game on Saturday, 8 May 2004, at 1:00 p.m. Elder Perry became a Red Sox fan after living in Boston previous to his call to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1974, which required him to move to Utah. His loyalty to the Red Sox has rubbed off on his children and grandchildren who are traveling to Boston to join him for this special occasion.
There are two things that immediately stand out when one meets 82-year-old Elder L. Tom Perry for the first time — his commanding height and engaging smile.
One soon learns that hard work and a vigorous enthusiasm to serve others are hallmarks in the life of this apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I’m just a very ordinary man with an extraordinary calling to reach out to people and bear witness of the Savior,” Elder Perry said.
“There is no negotiation, no consideration of salary or benefits,” said Robert L. Millet, professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. “They are asked. They accept. They put their affairs in order. Then they go to work for what they know will be the rest of their lives, serving a single cause.”
Elder Perry has been serving in that cause since April 6, 1974.
Commitment to Service
His commitment to service surfaced early in life. Elder Perry grew up in Cache Valley, Utah, in a family of six children. Like many youngsters, he had a job delivering morning papers. And nothing could stop him from making sure each and every house along his route received a newspaper — not even a blizzard and 20 inches of snow. That’s what Mother Nature served up one chilly morning when a determined Tom Perry spent an hour trudging through wet, knee-deep snow to deliver a single paper to a house located a half-mile off the road.
This kind of unwavering dedication is the scaffolding that supports Elder Perry’s character. After returning from a two-year mission for the Church in the northern United States, he immediately signed up to serve in the Marine Corps during World War II. He was in the first wave of Marines to enter Japan after the signing of the peace treaty at the close of the war. He described seeing the devastation in Nagasaki as one of the saddest experiences of his life. The loss of life and lack of food left many Japanese children to fend for themselves.
“We were fishing little guys out of our garbage can every night. They were scrounging for food. They would try and get away from us, but we’d catch them, bring them in and find them a good meal and help them get settled.” Elder Perry and his companions soon helped organize an orphanage with sisters from the Catholic church to care for these children.
But his service didn’t stop there. Elder Perry couldn’t speak the Japanese language, but he could swing a hammer and plaster walls, so using his now-classic determination and enthusiasm, he, along with a group of other soldiers, rebuilt Christian chapels during their off-duty time. In particular, he remembers repairing a Protestant chapel and restoring the minister to his congregation.
“I had the opportunity of being the first speaker when they got that congregation back together again and encouraged them to follow their minister.”
When it came time for the soldiers to leave Nagasaki, about 200 members from this congregation lined up along the railroad tracks singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and, as the train went by, touched the hands of Elder Perry and his companions in a show of gratitude.
Like many American servicemen, Elder Perry returned from the war to marry, raise a family and earn a living. He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from Utah State Agricultural College and thought he wanted to become a banker. But opportunities led him to the retail industry, where he excelled in numerous leadership positions. His career was marked by the same positive attitude and commitment to faith that was established in deep snow as a youngster delivering newspapers.
William T. French, chairman of the board of First National Stores, made this observation of his employee: “I would say the difference between Tom Perry and anyone else with whom we were associated was his enthusiastic and continual demonstration of his Christian faith. He always knew that today’s problems were relatively unimportant in the total scheme of things as he went about vigorously and joyously solving them.”
Elder Perry works just as joyously at his hobbies. At the mention of athletics, Elder Perry’s smile broadens and a light jumps into his eyes. “Oh, my father loved athletics. When I could barely read, I’d get up in the morning, run out and get the morning paper, and while Dad would shave, I’d read the baseball box scores to him.”
Although he says he wasn’t the best of athletes, this didn’t diminish his love for all sports. He said he took advantage of his time on the sidelines during his volleyball career to fine-tune his one talent. “I had more enthusiasm than anybody else on the team. I could fire up the players and the crowd while just sitting on the bench.”
Elder Perry moved his family to Boston in 1966 and found himself smack dab in the middle of what he calls the “heyday” of athletics in the city. He closely followed the Red Sox in their quest to win the World Series, Bill Russell and the Celtics, and Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins. He remains a fan to this day.
So when Elder Perry was invited to throw out the first pitch in an upcoming Red Sox game, this 82-year-old immediately started warming up his pitching arm. “It’s a thrill I thought I’d never have,” he said.
But Elder Perry enjoys more than just sports in Boston and returns to the city as much as possible. “How we love to go to Lexington, to Concord, off to the pier to see the old sailing ships and walk the historic path in Boston.”
Elder Perry has walked many paths in his life and enjoyed meeting those in all nations, circumstances and faiths as part of his apostolic calling. He keeps a rigorous schedule because, he said, “My great love is to be out with people. I’d rather shake hands than give sermons.”
But if he had one message he could give others it would be this: “Stay fast to the principles our Lord and Savior has taught us. Do not compromise on His principles. Do not think you’re smart enough to change His law and His direction because it will never work. Six thousand years or so has proven the fact that every time people stray from His ways that He has taught us from the very beginning, they find heartache, disappointment, discouragement and really don’t find the joy in life.”
Elder Perry’s son Lee looks at his father’s life as one lived with pure intent. Perhaps that is why the apostle who describes himself as “ordinary” is really quite “extraordinary,” Lee said.
“It has always impressed me that my father has never challenged a congregation to do anything that he does not do himself.
This is a testimony to me of profound integrity. It is so easy to teach and expound correct principles, but the logic behind living the commandments is inherently convincing. The real discipline, the true measure of a man’s character, comes when he can practice those principles at the same level at which he preaches them. From what I have observed, my father does just that.”