NY Times article - November 16, 2001 - A Policeman
for Starters, and at the End|
If you looked closely at the opening scene of "NYPD Blue" Tuesday evening, you could have spotted a tall handsome man named John W. Perry. He was an extra, playing one of the mourners in police uniforms at the funeral of an officer. For Mr. Perry's friends and relatives, the scene was much too familiar. The bagpipes and drums, the ceremonial pass of the helicopter, the solemn folding of the American flag. They had just been through it all.
The same police officer who sang "Ave Maria" at the television funeral, standing near Mr. Perry during the scene filmed in August, sang again on Saturday morning at Mr. Perry's memorial service. Mr. Perry did not just play a police officer on TV. He was a member of the Police Department who somehow found time to be an actor, a lawyer, a political activist, a volunteer social worker, an athlete, a linguist, and those were just some of the vocations listed by Commissioner Bernard B. Kerik during the service at the First Presbyterian Church on West 12th Street. "I thought I was the only person with nine lives in a career," Mr. Kerik said.
Mr. Perry, who was 38, was raised in Seaford, on Long Island. He couldn't tie his shoes or ride a bicycle until he was 9, and spent several early grades in special education classes. But he went on to run marathons, finish law school and serve in the Police Department as both a patrolman and a prosecutor of corrupt officers. For the service on Saturday, his mother, Patricia Perry, picked a reading about a lawyer, the one who asks Jesus how to gain eternal life and is told the parable of the Good Samaritan. After the service, Mr. Perry's friends and relatives couldn't stop telling stories of his unsolicited loans and gifts and favors. His apartment at Amsterdam Houses, the housing project near Lincoln Center, was a continual bed and breakfast, not only for friends(*) from overseas (he spoke French, Russian, Spanish and Swedish), but also for a homeless man he befriended.
He volunteered as an investigator of child abuse for the Kings County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
He was a police officer who opposed the war on drugs and was concerned about racial profiling (he was himself the product of an interracial marriage). He belonged to the Libertarian Party and the New York Civil Liberties Union, and worked on the campaign of Norman Siegel, the former New York Civil Liberties Union official who ran for public advocate. "We spent Sept. 9 driving around in his car as he made campaign announcements in English and Spanish," Mr. Siegel said. "I was convinced he would run for office himself one day. He was a brilliant, charismatic Renaissance man with a sparkle in his eye and an infectious smile. His future was unlimited."
Two days later, Mr. Perry, who had a job waiting in a Manhattan law firm, went to file his retirement papers. He was at Police Headquarters, off duty, when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. His retirement was promptly postponed. He bought a golf shirt with the N.Y.P.D. logo and rushed to the lobby of the north tower next to the plaza.
As office workers came down the stairs, he and other officers steered them away from the plaza, to a downstairs exit safe from the debris and bodies that were falling outside. "People would come out of the stairwell and freeze when they looked at the plaza," said Keith Morse, a police officer working with Mr. Perry. "There was one body lying right next to the window. A burning foot bounced off the glass at one point. People would look and go into shock. We had to grab them and keep them moving toward the escalator." One woman complained of chest pains and couldn't go on. Mr. Perry and a police captain, Timothy Pearson, took her arms and started to help her out of the building. Then they heard what sounded to Mr. Pearson and Mr. Morse like Niagara Falls. It was the other tower collapsing. "A wind like a tornado came at us, carrying debris and glass and soot," Mr. Pearson said. "It was sheer pandemonium. There was complete darkness. Windows shattered and parts of the floor collapsed." Mr. Pearson and Mr. Morse separately managed to escape from the tower just before it, too, collapsed. They never saw or heard anything of Mr. Perry or the woman he was helping. "It was just part of John's nature to be there," his mother said Saturday. "This big man standing there, directing people to safety. It was the culmination of a lifetime of wanting to help. I was very glad we had the Good Samaritan reading today."
Rest in Peace - John W. Perry www.legacy.com/Sept11.asp?Page=Story&PersonID=122581
(*) Rest in Peace - Michel P. Colbert: www.legacy.com/Sept11.asp?Page=Story&PersonID=103966
Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.