Campus tech leader Russell Perry remembered
If someone had a question about anything related to science or technology, Russell Darrin Perry had the answer.
For more than 20 years, Perry had been a part of Fresno State’s Technology Services.
On April 15, Perry passed away at age 53, leaving behind his wife Margarita, two daughters, his Portuguese immigrant father Jim and a legacy at Fresno State.
“We were just shocked,” said Greg Chapman, friend and coworker to Perry. “The hardest part is him not being here anymore.”
Mike Mize, another close friend and colleague to Perry, knew him as a person that could be relied on.
“That’s one of the things I’m really going to miss, that you could count on him,” he said.
A Kingsburg native who once rode his purple Harley Davidson cross-country to Washington, D.C., in 2006, Perry spent most of the week leading up to his sudden death ill due to food poisoning, his wife said. She added that his prior issues with irritable bowel syndrome exacerbated his illness.
“I kept telling him to go to the doctor,” Margarita said, shaking her head. “He was so stubborn.”
When Perry finally went to the doctor on Friday, April 12, he was told he was severely dehydrated, but otherwise fine. He was given medicine and sent on his way, hoping to return to work at Fresno State the following Monday.
Over the weekend, however, Margarita noticed her husband’s speech started to slur, as though his tongue was too big for his mouth. But he brushed it off.
Perry decided he was ready to return to work on Monday. He called his wife, who works as the office manager in Admissions, Records and Evaluations, asking her to lunch. But she was busy and asked him to pick something up for her.
He brought her lunch and then went on his way.
About 20 minutes later, Margarita received a phone call from her friend, Carmen, Chapman’s wife.
“She asked me where Russ was and told me to call him because she’d heard someone had passed out in the parking lot,” Margarita said. “She said the description sounded so much like Russ.”
Margarita didn’t feel the need to panic because she had just seen her husband minutes before, but she decided to call him to be safe. He didn’t answer after two tries, which she said was typical because he kept his phone on silent.
Then Margarita received another phone call, this time coming from her husband’s phone number, but it wasn’t his voice on the other end. The voice asked if she was a family member and told her that her husband was being taken to the hospital.
Perry had collapsed at parking lot D near the Henry Madden Library.
Staying calm and collected, Margarita left her office and drove to the emergency room.
“I’m the kind of person who always thinks the worst, because then it doesn’t really happen,” she said. But this time, she couldn’t allow herself to think that way.
She left her cellphone in her car once she got there.
“I don’t know why I did that, but it’s a good thing because everybody was calling me, and I didn’t need to have that going on,” she said.
Margarita recalled the time spent sitting in the waiting room as she awaited news of her husband’s condition. She spoke of a nurse who came to check up on her and the second time around, she asked the nurse for an update.
The nurse told her the outlook was grim.
Doctors had been working on Perry for the past hour, trying to revive his heartbeat, but it was too late.
Margarita couldn’t describe what it felt like when she walked into the room and saw her husband as he appeared at peace while he lay in the hospital bed.
“He was still warm when I went in there, and I touched his hand,” she said.
On Tuesday, April 23, the flags at Fresno State were lowered to half-staff in Perry’s honor.
“Everyone respected him,” Mize said.
In the late ’80s, Perry came to work for the computer science program at Fresno State. A short time later, he was in a meeting with colleagues when the question came up, “What can we do to improve?”
“Russ said, ‘You need to get ARPAnet,’” Mize said.
ARPAnet is the networking technology that would soon evolve to become the modern day Internet.
It was created in the late 1960s by the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA).
The purpose of ARPA was to create expensive timeshare computers, which were each designed using a special application available to users through a network instead of a direct connection.
Perry earned his bachelor’s degree from Fresno State and his master’s from University of California, Davis. He was tapped to explain the way ARPAnet worked when the proposal to bring it to Fresno State was presented to the California State University System in Long Beach, Calif.
Perry knew what he was doing, Mize said.
“He had such a wealth of knowledge,” he said.
Mize, who has worked on the campus since 1989, is a lead on projects through Technology Services. He said Fresno State was one of the first campuses on the West Coast to have such advanced technology.
Mize, along with Chapman, agreed that the Internet would eventually have come to Fresno State as it did to all college campuses, but that Perry’s involvement allowed for it to happen sooner.
“It’s probably safe to say that he was the first person to send an email from Fresno State,” Mize said.
Perry’s name may not ring a bell for some people, but it should.
Chapman echoed Mize’s sentiment. Perry’s positive reputation preceded him, he said with a smile, because he was not a hard person to be friends with.
“Russ was really special in his own way, and you don’t really realize that until you lose the person,” Chapman said.
Margarita said she and her husband of four years had discussed his future retirement, which was only a few years away, and he was looking forward to it.
Perry was involved in the technological aspect of writing a grant to get the High Performance Computing cluster to campus. The cluster consists of several computers, each handling different aspects of the same project and transmits information all over the world.
The cluster was a part of the discovery of the Higgs boson, more commonly known as the “God particle.” With this achievement under his belt, Margarita said her husband had another experience to look forward to: working with CERN—the European Council for Nuclear Research.
CERN and its laboratory sits on the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva. Founded in 1954, the organization consists of physicists and engineers using the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments possible to study fundamental particles.
Margarita said her husband’s face lit up like a Christmas tree when he received word that he had an official email account with CERN.
Perry would often help his oldest daughter, who was in her early teenage years, with her homework that left her frustrated.
“She wanted him to just give her the answers and he wouldn’t, but he also didn’t understand why other people didn’t get things as easily as he did,” she said.
One of Perry’s few regrets that he had in life was not finishing his doctorate, Margarita said. He could have gone to any school for it but wanted it from UC Davis, as he had his master’s, but the school required perfect Graduate Record Examination scores.
Perry’s score was off by one point.
“He was wired like a computer,” Margarita said. This quality of his led to frustration at times, but also success.
While the weeks since Perry’s death have been a roller coaster for her, Margarita said she is grateful for the outpouring of support she has received.
Chapman and Mize also spoke of holding a memorial service to honor Perry at Fresno State.
To those who know him the most, Perry’s passing leaves a gap that can never be filled.
“He used to sit across from me in the office,” Mize said. “The other day something came up on my computer that I knew he would like, so I was going to look over and say, ‘Hey Russ!’ to show it to him. But he wasn’t there. I can’t do that anymore.”
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