This website honors the Oxford Institute. But it will also honor any Perry individual, who as a citizen, made a huge impact in the town of Oxford.
A Tribute to Sergei Dorrance Perry
January 26th 1945-February 4th 2005
Of all the Perrys in Oxford, there may be none more dear and important than Sergei Perry who served the Town of Oxford his entire life in so many ways. As a Volunteer Firefighter, Volunteer Ambulance Driver, Assistant Foreman at the Oxford Public Works Dept., Volunteer Library Board Member, Oxford Voting Machine Repairman, and a community member totally invested in the town he loved. The following moving eulogy was written by his beloved Sister, Eugenia Dorrance (Ginny) Linder, who referred to him lovingly as “Ziggy”:
“Sadly, we’ve gathered today to say our goodbyes to Sergei. His life was shorter than we would have hoped for, yet, looking at it, it was a life full of the things that made him happy. Basic things; kindness, friendship, charity, loyalty. Each of us knew him differently, but consistently as smart, quirky, stubborn, generous & loyal. I’ve known him as a brother. I’m sure you’re wondering if I can shed any light on what made Ziggy tick the way he did. All I can say is this. I have come to the conclusion that we are all born to be the keepers of something. Even as a kid, Sergei was not generic. From my crib, I endlessly watched my 6 year old brother make myriads of springs on a vice my dad had installed on a kitchen work bench for him. My dad furnished different grades & weights of wire and he would discover the properties of the metal by the kind of spring it made. My dad kindly always found a use for some of them. Sergei loved Duco cement & would glue all kinds of stuff together. He loved radio tubes & electrical switches and made all kinds of contraptions for the house that plugged in and lit up but did nothing. I remember the fun we had playing together with our two train sets. My dad had worked on the railroad in the 1920’s laying the tracks along the Housatonic River and the train sets seemed bring out those stories that Sergei loved to hear. He loved to walk along the Naugatuck River alongside third street where we lived in Seymour, observing the muskrats and watching the water flow down the river and over the falls by the Waterman Pen Company.
Our mother liked to read inspiring autobiographies to the family at the dinner table. The first I remember was “Seven Pillars of Wisdom“, the life of T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia. The stories were always full of adventure & personal discovery and they really expanded our world and imagination from the Third Street tenements. Mother liked to hike & we walked all over Seymour and often to watch the train come into Seymour Station. She took us to Peabody museum to get a glimpse of natural history. By the time we moved to Oxford in the early 1950’s, Sergei would go off hiking in the woods for hours. He would come back with oddities he found there, unusual trees seedlings to plant in the yard & garnets he chiseled out of the boulders. He knew all the old trails, abandoned structures and the ledges miles back. Often he would lead mom and I into the woods and way up onto those ledges for a dramatic view to the south, way down the Housatonic River. After hearing Thor Heyerdahl’s autobiography, he built a Kontiki raft in the front yard & dyed a sail. All the neighborhood kids spent hours on it, imagining we too were at sea. Zig never played kids games but he did like our cowboy cap guns. Instead, he liked spending time with the wiser, older men in the neighborhood, Paul Nelson, Tom Costello & Aker Pryplesh. He gained knowledge from their experiences on the realities of life, war, history & scientific advancement.
His closest childhood friend was Tom Buchanan. We spent snowy winters sliding down Costello’s hill until way after dark so we could see the sparks fly from the runners as we slid over exposed rocks. We swam in the river. He would pretend to be a submarine, look at me through his fingers held as crosshairs & then swim invisibly underwater, suddenly grabbing me by the ankles and pulling me under. He and I stayed up on Saturday nights to watch wrestling or boxing followed by the scary Sci-Fi movies at 11PM & I’d heat us up the original Swanson’s three compartment, TV fried chicken, corn & mashed potato dinners. Possibly the forerunner of his love for KFC. He liked to keep the fireplace going & collected types of wood that he knew to be aromatic when burned or smoking foods. He treasured a big white telescope, educating all the kids in the neighborhood about the planets and the constellations. It’s that same telescope you’ve all probably looked through more than once to see the rings of Saturn.
He spent a summer smelting lead out of an old piano & gunshot shrapnel. Those lead ingots, formed into the sardine can shapes, are still in the attic today. He was fascinated with weather and kept meticulous journals of rainfall & conditions for years. He and my dad loved to grow vegetable crops of tomatoes, beans, corn, potatoes and strawberries. Sergei grew perfect big strawberries. He was especially fond of tiger cats, Zoomer was his constant companion for 17 years, followed later by Scooter for another 18.
My dad was a machinist and multi-talented man. He discussed trains, planes and mechanics endlessly. Ziggy absorbed it all. He mostly followed my dad as he worked on cars and projects, listening faithfully to his stories of yesterday. My dad could keep almost anything running way past its prime, often coming up with non-conventional solutions to problems or making odd, bizarre looking repairs. Yet they worked perfectly well. Sergei learned how to get the last oink out of anything he had. He read dad’s Popular Mechanics & Popular Science Magazines cover to cover. My dad bought him a Green 1947 Jeep. He took apart the engine & reassembled it on the living room floor more than once. Even this December he told me that precious Jeep was still something he wanted to put back together & ride in again. He taught me to drive in that Jeep, even how to get out & lock the wheel hubs, so I could take the driving inspector for a wild uphill ride should the chance present itself.
Sergei graduated from Southbury High School in 1962 with the prize in Physics and was offered a scholarship to Rensselear Polytecnic Institute. Oddly he declined & didn’t want to go. I think he had enough of school and all the formality & foolishness he found uninteresting. Instilled by my mother, Sergei’s biggest love was reading. His quest for knowledge was insatiable. Not that he really needed any more, he could never resist the temptation of a stack of really good Scientific American, National Geographic, or Smithsonian magazines. If he discovered a row of interesting books he wouldn’t emerge till they were all devoured. Hours or days would pass. He even had the compulsion to point out all the factual errors by writing corrections in the margins of books that weren’t even his. On TV, the History & Discovery channels were sufficient. His love of trains has I’m sure, led to more than one of you having a stack of gift train VCRs at home. Sergei’s job at Oxford Public Works fit his lifestyle.
He loved outdoors, snow & big equipment. Inspired by my dad’s years of dedication and service to the Riverside Fire Department, he held a lifelong affiliation with them and referred to the members as brothers.Probably the saddest day for Sergei was August 17 1997, the day we buried my dad, his dearest companion. Two months later my mom needed medical attention and had to leave the home. After that, Sergei seemed to grow sad and more reclusive. Without our parents, the house must have seemed an empty tomb to him, so he spent less & less time there. I was fortunate in July 2002 to go with Sergei on a long train adventure around the US on AMTRAK. He told me that the steam locomotive journey on the Grand Canyon Railway into the Grand Canyon, which he referred to as, “a hell of a gravel pit,” was possibly the happiest day spent in his life. He got to experience a San Francisco cable car going downhill when a newly repaired cable failed & the wood brakes heated till you could smell them burn. His favorite of all our stops was magnificent Yosemite National Park. He touched his first sequoia. He agreed it would have been nice to have spent his life there as a forest ranger. I had always thought my brother should have been a US Forest Ranger. He admitted it was great to read about something, but far different to experience it. As you will probably agree, he chose to follow the road less traveled.
He was a true American Patriot. He was a Republican. If it wasn’t made in America by American workers, he wouldn’t even take it for free. He would say if you want to make American wages, you have to be willing to pay them. Sergei found great pleasure in dedicating his life to public service, offering his knowledge to any who asked, and generously helping friends and strangers he found in need along the way. He enjoyed providing for others more than for himself. He had wonderfully loyal friends. He has really spent every minute of his life doing exactly what he wanted to at that moment, regardless of what others thought he should be doing. He had no sense of time, didn’t wear a watch, nor did it matter. He lived in the enjoyment of that moment. He was a timeless man, and we loved him just as he was. To me the essence of Sergei was as the keeper of all the basic truths, life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. He always said live & let live. All any of us could have wished for now, was more of his time. Fortunately, Sergei had lived for the moment.”