Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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John Hoyt Perry of the village of Southport, in the town of Fairfield, died suddenly at Averill, Vt., September 2, 1928. He was born on July 26, 1848, at Southport and lived there until his death. Son of Oliver Henry and Harriet Eliza (Hoyt) Perry, he came of a long line of distinguished ancestry that had builded deep and well into the old town of Fairfield and Fairfield County. He used to say to his friends that within twenty-five miles of his home there were buried more than a score of his ancestors.
He prepared for college at the Wilton Academy and entered Yale College with the class of 1869. Because of delicate health, however, he lost a year, graduating in 1870. He received the degree of M.A. from Yale in 1873. His legal education was pursued at the Columbia Law School where he received the LL.B. degree in 1873. He was admitted to the bar in Fairfield County in June, 1873.
His professional practice began in Norwalk as junior in the firm of Ferry, Woodward & Perry. Orris S. Ferry had represented the fourth congressional district in Congress and became United States senator in 1867. Asa B. Woodward was an outstanding lawyer and citizen in Norwalk and for many years judge of probate. In 1887 Judge Perry and his brother, Winthrop H. Perry, formed the firm of Perry & Perry with offices in Bridgeport.
In 1889, he was appointed judge of the Court of Common Pleas for Fairfield County and served until 1893. Then with his brother, Winthrop, and George E. Hill, he formed at Bridgeport the firm of Perry, Perry & Hill, which continued until he retired from active practice in 1902. In 1901-1902, he was counsel for the United States in arbitration proceedings with Chile. Thereafter he continued his interest in law and in lawyers, and though he did not maintain an office, he acted as counsel for the town of Fairfield, served in the management of trusts, and the settlement of estates, and counseled and advised his friends and former clients and whoever asked his assistance, but did not engage in active, much less general, practice.
He was instructor in the law of evidence and contracts in the Yale Law School and lectured there on Parliamentary Law. In politics he was a Republican and represented Fairfield in the House of Representatives in 1877, 1878, 1881 and 1889. In this last year he was speaker of the House, as his father, Oliver H. Perry, had been in the sessions of 1859 and 1860. In 1913 he was elected to the Connecticut Senate and served as the minority leader.
Judge Perry was a member and first vice president of the Connecticut constitutional convention of 1902. Always active in law enforcement, he was appointed a member and for many years served as president of the state police commission until its reorganization in 1921.
He gave his services freely in civic and church matters. He was the president of the Southport Savings Bank, the Pequot Library Association of Southport from its founding, and the Fairfield Historical Society; trustee of the Hartford Seminary Foundation; chairman of the executive committee and lifelong member of the Southport Congregational Church; chairman of the executive committee of the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions; and a member of the alumni advisory board of Yale University from its creation until 1925. As president of the Connecticut Society of Colonial Wars, he saw to the marking of historic spots, among others that of the Great Swamp Fight ending the Pequot War of 1638, in Southport just south of the Old Post Road.
He took a deep and active interest in the affairs of his town, and labored untiringly for the improvement of his village. Incidentally he saw to it that no boat with unmuffled motor operated on Southport Harbor, and that no saloon was located in the village south of the railroad. He was a regular attendant at town meetings, where his influence was always felt and made for advancement and improvement.
He was among the earliest to seek the Adirondacks for health and recreation (a "Murrayite"), and kept his interest in fishing and the out-of-doors until the end. For many years he had a cottage or camp on an island in Moosehead Lake. He belonged to the Metabetchouan Fishing and Game Club at Kiskisink, Quebec, and the Hallenback Club at Lime Rock. His death occurred when he was on a fishing trip with his family at Quimby's.
Judge Perry married Frances Virginia Bulkley of Southport September 23, 1874, and had five children, George B., J. Walter, Richard A., Virginia B., and Hoyt O. Perry. All his children survive except George, who became a successful lawyer in Detroit and died in January, 1923. On November 15 of the same year Mrs. Perry died, and thereafter his daughter, Virginia, with whom he always maintained a beautiful companionship, managed his home. Despite his civic activities, his family and next his church were his foremost consideration.
An examination of the Connecticut Reports for the period ending with his retirement from active practice reveals a large number of important cases in which he was counsel and to which he brought a highly trained legal mind and unusual powers of analysis and logic. His clarity of thought, his terseness and clearness of expression, made his arguments weighty and convincing. He was probably more influential with the court than with the jury.
Judge Perry was reserved in manner, an artistocrat in appearance and in his thinking, but warm, loyal and devoted to his friends, among whom he counted many of the most noted and influential men of Connecticut. Each autumn he was host on an automobile trip and picnic (once at least on the shores of Lake Waramaug) with his friends Marcus H. Holcomb, Charles Hopkins Clark, Col. Norris G. Osborne, Justice John E. Keeler and other leaders of the commonwealth.
While not a politician - he certainly was not a "handshaker" - he was a power in the town meetings of Fairfield, in the halls of the General Assembly, and in the deliberations of the constitutional convention.
Among his friends and intimates he showed a humor that was exquisitely subtle and delightful and to his adversaries in debate he exhibited wit that was acute and brilliant. He could play upon words with a delicacy and warmth and exactness of meaning that was entrancing, with the sharpness and thrust of a rapier. Woe to the opponent in debate whom the judge deemed to be unfair in argument, for then his wit might take the form of sarcasm that could cut deep and wide.
Judge Perry was a refined Christian gentleman. He always kept an active interest in the practical matters affecting his town, his state and his church, but never allowed practical considerations to lower his standards. He was morally and intellectually honest. He thought true and straight and then acted. He believed that the success of any great moral enterprise did not depend upon numbers, hence he was never afraid to be one of a minority. Sometimes he seemed rather to enjoy it. His friend "Nod" Osborne, aptly refers to Judge Perry's "militant integrity," and notes, and regrets, that Judge Perry like Henry C. Robinson of Hartford was never made governor.
He regarded his house as his "castle" and his records and papers "sacred," even from a treasury agent.
He loved his native town and state, where he lived for eighty full and useful years. By his clean living, clear thinking, fine achievements, Judge Perry came to be regarded as an outstanding leader of his town and one of the foremost citizens of Connecticut. It has taken many to fill the places of trust and usefulness that he filled so well. His influence for good in the community he so much adorned and in the state he served so long still continues.