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WAKE FOREST — More than four decades after James “Jimmy” Perry won the town’s mayorship, longtime Wake Forest residents honored him Saturday at his funeral.
Perry, 72, died from health complications Oct. 29. The former mayor and businessman grew up in Wake Forest, served one term from 1978-82 and in the decades after led a private life that on more than one occasion landed him in trouble with the law.
But those who knew Perry since he was a child said he was upstanding and good-natured and that he deeply loved the town.
“He enjoyed life. He enjoyed people. He especially enjoyed children,” said Wake Forest attorney James Warren, who was in the same grade as Perry throughout school. “He always had a great joke to tell you. He was a great story teller.”
Perry would stop by Shorty’s Famous Hot Dogs almost every day, Warren said. Perry was an avid fan of Wake Forest High School football and played as quarterback when he was a student. In his later years, Perry had a regular seat in the back row of the stadium where he would watch games.
Wake Forest chose Perry to be mayor when he was in his early 30s. He also worked a number of odd jobs — rarely in 9-to-5 work — including stints in investment, printing and development, according to sources. After his term as mayor, he worked on developing the Tyler Run subdivision in Wake Forest, which is named after his daughter.
The town of Wake Forest declined to provide a statement on Perry’s passing this week. Current Mayor Vivian Jones said Perry was before her time, but that she attended the service Saturday.
“I know he loved to talk to people,” Jones added.
Another former Wake Forest mayor, Jimmy Ray, said he knew Perry well. Ray was elected in 1987, also in his 30s.
“It was quite a responsibility to put on someone’s shoulders, to be in that position, for he and myself,” Ray said. To be elected mayor back then — when the town’s population was just a few thousand — one had to be popular, dedicated to community service and in love with the town. Perry was all of those things, Ray said.
Warren said that although he felt Perry did a good job as mayor, he didn’t think Perry enjoyed playing a role in the forefront of the town. Perry preferred to help others succeed from behind the scenes.
Those behind-the-scenes dealings twice attracted the attention of law enforcement. In 1998, Perry was one of several men charged in a schedule resulting in the theft of more than $2 million from the Sumter County, South Carolina school district, according to a past edition of The Wake Weekly. Perry pleaded guilty to embezzling $100,000 over two years the following year.
Then in 2010, Perry was sentenced to federal prison after admitting to bribing a state official in an attempt to speed up the permitting process for a planned ethanol company in which he had invested. David Brady, the president of the Agri-Ethanol company, was also sentenced. Perry was released from prison in 2012, records show.
“He stumbled a few times trying to make a dollar,” Warren said. “When it came to earning a living, he was kind of shady. But we kind of ignored that.”
Ray had his own legal troubles as well; he resigned as mayor in 1993 after pleading guilty to possession of cocaine. Ray said he knew the community was disappointed and confused when it learned of Perry’s conviction.
Ray said both he and Perry decided to continue to live in Wake Forest and be a part of the community after their crimes came to light.
“Jimmy didn’t run,” Ray said. “Time heals. I think what we do after that — we learn from those mistakes. You turn negatives into positives. ... He got through that.”
Many said Perry was more than his convictions and remained a gentleman well into the end of his life.
“He really was a very good person to be around,” Warren said.