Note: this is the complete version of the Amherst Notice which was prepared by Steve Grant.
David L. Perry
1940 - 2011
This is Steve Grant writing at home in Arlington, Virginia in February 2011. My son and I enjoyed lunch with David L. Perry on Fisherman’s Wharf fifteen weeks before he left us. Dave was living in his long-time home, apartment no. 3 at1901 California St. in San Francisco. A few days ago, his ashes were spread out over San FranciscoBay. He died in the KaiserMedicalCenter on Jan. 23 at age 70 from congestive heart failure and metastatic prostate cancer. He leaves a younger sister Ruth in Lafayette, Colorado. Dave’s older brother Gordon died on May 19, 1955 in an auto accident while returning from a golf competition at Williams. He was in the class of 1955 at Amherst.
Prior to Dave’s entering the hospital on Jan. 20, my son Yonel prepared his last meal at home, ratatouille. Living in Menlo Park, and working at101 California St., Yonel had become a good buddy. Dave had flown to southern France for Yonel’s wedding in the early nineties. Shortly after the birth of my granddaughter, Dave arrived for dinner with a magnum of Veuve Clicquot champagne that dwarfed Gabriela. When Dave decided a few years ago to embark on the translation of an early French cookbook, Yonel––a bilingual lad–– offered to help. They were a fine team.
Dave and I were the only ones in our small class (30) at Noble & GreenoughSchool in Dedham to go to Amherst. At Nobles he was valedictorian of his class. He later mused, “I have never had any difficulty speaking before an audience.”
He was active on the debating and soccer teams, in the dramatic club, on the school journal board, and in the French and Latin clubs. He already liked good food. He was familiar with preparing game birds. His father was an avid hunter, and generally had woodcocks in his freezer.
Dave built on many aspects of his secondary education in later life. In his Societas Latina, Dave was dubbed Quaestor Emeritus. We were in a hilarious class, where once a year our master would pick up the telephone and call Caesar. Anyone who emailed Perry these past few years discovered his address: Jacta alea est. “The die is cast,” declared Caesar as he crossed the Rubicon.
In senior year at Nobles, we had a French French teacher who came from Versailles. He was extremely opinionated and David loved to argue with him. Monsieur Bevillard organized Saturday evening excursions to test the gastronomic fare at the French restaurants in Cambridge. The summer of our junior year at Amherst David attended the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris. Back on campus, one evening he and I were invited to dine at Charlotte Turgeon’s in their home; an impressive gastronomic meal! The wife of French Professor King Turgeon was cooking editor of the New York Times and authored many books on cooking. Later, to share with several friends, Dave recreated historic meals. An example was the Testimonial Dinner given to Senator William Sharon by his “Old Friends of the Comstock Lode” at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco on February 8, 1876.” This passion of Dave’s entailed researching where he could find special ingredients, and appropriate wines, if not the same vintage. He’d take several days vacation to prepare the repast that would last well into the night. Dave’s library contained a thick binder of elaborately printed menus of gastronomic meals he had concocted for his guests.
In 2007, with a French exchange student, Dave and I organized a ten-day trip to Alsace as a mini-reunion for our Nobles class who could and would participate in such an experience. A third of the class made the voyage, many with wives or companions. Dave put together the list of restaurants and selected the menus. Below is an example of the gourmet standards to which he opened our eyes and mouths.
Many years ago, Dave’s aunt passed on to him a volume of ancient French recipes. Conducting research on the subject, he discovered all the writings of its author, Antoine de Beauvilliers (1754–1817), who opened in 1782 a restaurant in Paris, "the first,” Dave wrote, “to combine the four essentials of an elegant room, smart waiters, a choice cellar, and superior cooking." In 1814 de Beauvilliers wrote L'Art de Cuisinier, which deals with cooking and all aspects of food service as a science. Dave began the prodigious task of translating the cookbook of 1,236 recipes. He was about 70% finished when he died. He wrote, “If you had said to me while at Amherst that one day I would be passionately involved in translating an antique French cookbook I would have thought you mad or drunk.” Hopefully the book will see the light of day. In the preface he had prepared, he clarified what he was and what he wasn’t: “I am neither a culinary historian not a professional chef, but I am a passionate amateur.”
To conclude this lengthy chapter on Dave the passionate amateur, let me share one of his many food jokes: A robust-looking gentleman ate a fine meal at an expensive restaurant and topped it off with some Napoleon brandy. Then he summoned the headwaiter. “Do you recall,” he asked pleasantly, “how a year ago, I ate just such a repast here, and then, because I couldn’t pay for it, you had me thrown into the gutter like a common bum”? “I’m very sorry, Sir, began the contrite headwaiter.” “Oh, it’s quite all right,” said the guest. “But I’m afraid I’ll have to trouble you again.”
It’s hard to capture multi-faceted and larger-than-life Dave Perry, who was much more than just a dedicated foodie. He enjoyed a brilliant career in the law in a Fortune 200 (at the time) company. He was bright, witty, and generous. He looked forward immensely to his Nobles and Amherst reunions. For those who might wonder why Perry chose the law and left for the west coast after Amherst, he has penned his explanation.
“By the end of my sophomore year, I was quite certain that I wanted to pursue a career in law. My decision was influenced to a great extent by the lawyers I had met over the years. They seemed to be more intellectually curious, more up to date, less judgmental and more admirable to my mind than most of their peers, and I was fortunate enough through family friends and in other ways to meet a number of very successful lawyers, both in the practice of law and in business.
For all its many merits, I found New England to be claustrophobic, insular and rigid. A society that seemed to be anchored in the past and more interested in knowing who you're family was and what they did rather than who you were and what you might achieve. A social order and class structure built upon privilege, connections and accidents of birth. I had no use, among other things, for the many social climbers who thought a listing in the Social Register was some sort of achievement or for invitations to debutante balls from people I and my family did not even know. I wanted an opportunity to see more of the world, to get a fresh start, a fresh perspective, and to go, in a sense, where no one knew my name.
For this reason, I applied to a number of law schools outside of New England. I was accepted by a number of them, and ended up at the School of Law, University of California, Berkeley.”
David graduated from the UC-Berkeley School of Law in 1966. He returned to the east for two years to work in trade regulation at the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, helping to create what is now the Division of Credit Practices in the Bureau of Consumer Protection.
Dave worked for the Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corp. in Oakland from 1969 to 1992, at age 43 becoming VP and General Counsel. He called his last years at Kaiser “challenging and tumultuous, as the Company had to defend against three brutal takeover battles.” During his later years, he managed Kaiser’s medical benefit trust, and as CEO led a Silicon Valley startup company, Cellnet Data Systems.
Readers may be admiring Dave’s fluid writing style and wondering how he came to produce and share some parts of his autobiography. Simply, Nobles got to him before Amherst did for a fiftieth reunion individual commentary. I have spoken with the Nobles class website honchos who consented to my borrowing from “The David Perry Report” of 2009. I’ll now sign off on this obituary by turning the podium to Dave as he chronicles his Amherst years, from the admissions interview with Dean Bill through to graduation. You know he was a gastronome; now you’ll savor his talent as a raconteur.