Veteran county commissioner leaves legacy
When Ron Perry retires later this year after almost 30 years of government service in Summit, Salt Lake and Tooele counties, he’ll leave behind a legacy of which few Park City area residents are aware and few could match. In fact, the longtime Summit County resident was a virtual "force of nature" in preserving open space and helping to develop an effective planning and zoning process for western Summit County during the "Wild West" days of the 1980s and early ’90s. It’s safe to say that, without his presence on the Summit County Commission during those formative growth years, Snyderville Basin would be a very different place. His motivation was pure and simple. "I have always loved this place, the mountains, this community and the people who live here," says Perry.
Born in Chicago, Ill., in 1945, Perry moved with his parents to Utah in 1948. He describes a "quintessential ‘Huck Finn’ childhood" growing up in Holladay, then a remote, sleepy suburb of Salt Lake City. "We lived right on Big Cottonwood Creek, where we fished, rode tubes down the creek and went skinny dipping in area ponds."
Perry learned to ski at age five. "About six of us kids in the neighborhood took lessons. Our instructor would pick us up, drive us to Brighton, buy each of us a day pass and lunch, then take us home, all for $5." Hard to believe after a season when day passes at some Park City resorts approached $100.
Perry attended Central Elementary and Middle School, which no longer exists. He went on to attend Granite High School, where he took an interest in business classes and politics. After graduation he enrolled at the University of Utah, where he majored in political science.
Perry married and began his family while in college. He has two grown children and six grandchildren. Out of college in the late 1960s, he went to work as a store manager for Zinik, a popular chain of sporting-good stores along the Wasatch Front.
In 1974, Perry moved his family to Summit Park. "I remember there were only 136 other houses in Summit Park when we built our home. We loved the mountains, green trees and clean air," he says.
Perry promptly got his real estate license and left Zinik after 12 years to take a job as a real-estate appraiser for Summit County, with offices in Coalville. His cold-water plunge into Summit County politics came in 1979 when he ran for a seat on the Summit County Commission. An unabashed Democrat, Perry admits the deck was stacked against him.
"At that time the county was about 85 percent Republican. I had no history here, no family connections, so I knew the only chance I had was to knock on about 5,000 doors, introduce myself and talk about my platform." That’s exactly what he did, running on a platform of creating a fair and equitable personnel policy and wage scale for county workers, he says. To the amazement of his opponent, his plan worked and he was elected.
"I was pretty proud of myself," Perry grins. Sadly for Perry, he was swept out of office two years later when Ronald Reagan and coattail Republicans took charge across the country.
Out of office, he was appointed and accepted a position as Summit County Assessor. He remained in that position until he successful ran for election again in 1985. Over the following four years Perry worked tirelessly on the Summit County Commission, helping to refine the public planning process, revise "sacred cow" development master plans and battle zealous real-estate developers after every inch of open space in the Snyderville Basin. He aligned himself with open-space and recreation advocates struggling to preserve open space and create a better quality of life in the basin.
"We got into a lot of lawsuits," he grins. Among his many achievements was the preservation of several hundred acres of open space in the Ecker Hill area.
Though Perry lost his county commission re-election bid in 1995, he continues to serve on the Snyderville Basin Special Recreation District as a board member, a position he’s held for over 12 years.
Unemployed again, Perry was offered a position as appraisal supervisor with Tooele County. He’d been doing contract appraisal work for the county for several years, so the transition to a full-time job was seamless. Since the Tooele job was 10 hours a day, Monday thorough Thursday, Perry filled his "free" Fridays as a part-time hearing officer for Salt Lake County. "I hear commercial property tax appeals every Friday and write up my decisions over the weekend.
Though he will retire from his Tooele County job soon, he will continue to work for Salt Lake County.
Perry’s first marriage ended in the late 1980s. In 1997, he met Deborah in the parking lot at Wolf Mountain. The attraction was immediate and mutual. "We made each other laugh," he explains. "She was also very attractive and a lot smarter than me, which I liked," he adds.
Deborah has a master’s degree in elementary education and teaches fifth grade in the Granite School District. The two were married in 1997 and bought a home with a view in Brook Hollow Village. Ironically, it’s the view Perry helped to preserve. "I can sit on my back deck and see all the way to Bald Mountain without seeing another home," he says with satisfaction.
Perry has always been quick to smile or crack a joke at work or inject a touch of humor into the daily headlines. He says humor is good medicine for what ails us and a coping mechanism for the travails of modern life. "With what’s going on in the world, we need more laughter," he prescribes, adding "my wife married me for comic relief."
Perry is passionate about staying fit and healthy. At age 65, he still works out six hours a week religiously. Though he’s looking forward to spending more time with his kids and grandkids in Texas, skiing and golfing, Perry admits semi-retirement may not come easily for him. "I figure I’ll have my ‘honey-do’ list done in three months. I don’t know what I’m going to do after that, but I’ll find something. Whatever it is, I just want to live life to the fullest."
Steve Phillips is a Park City-based writer and actor. Send your profile comments and suggestions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Favorite things to do: ski, golf, hike, perform in the annual Park City Follies
Favorite foods: Italian, Mexican
Favorite music: Old school rock-and-roll, classical sometimes
Favorite authors: John Grisham, Tom Clancy
Animal companions: Simon, a 15-year-old tabby cat
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