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Biography

Remembering Harold Owens Perry

An inspiration for younger athletes

Author Unknown | March 21, 2002

Harold "Hal" Perry, a longtime Walnut Creek resident, was born in Canada, the child of English immigrants. His family moved to the Bay Area when he was a young boy, and Hal attended Bay Area schools and graduated from U.C. Berkeley in 1942 with a degree in foreign languages. He married Frances "Fran" Jensen on January 10, 1942. They met at Safeway, and Fran has often commented that the best bargain she ever got at Safeway was free - her husband!

Hal joined the army at the outset of World War II and was sent to the University of Michigan, where he did graduate work in Japanese language. Upon completion of those studies, he went to Minneapolis where he received his commission at Fort Snelling. He attained the rank of captain and served in military intelligence in the China-Burma-India theater during World War II, including a stint in Shanghai.

After completing a Japanese refresher course at the Language School at the Presidio in Monterey, Hal and his wife went to Osaka, Japan where he was in the Counter Intelligence Corp. Hal spent a total of six years in Japan, two with the Army Occupation Forces and the remainder as a Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Department of State, with the U.S. Embassy, Diplomatic Corp., where he was in charge of a refugee relief program.

After their stint in Japan, the Perrys returned to California and Hal retained his commission in the reserve. He was called back to active duty as a military intelligence officer during the Korean War and served as an instructor at Fort Riley, Kansas, teaching order of battle.

Hal spent the remainder of his career as a foreign service officer of the U.S. State Department in Washington D.C., his duties including translation of government documents and correspondence and interpreting for and escorting foreign dignitaries throughout the U.S. He was a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity at U.C. Berkeley, the Italian and French Bicycle Clubs, and the SIRS Mount Diablo Branch number eight.

Hal was a determined and disciplined man who participated in a variety of sports, most notably cycling, golf and swimming, and he earned the respect of his fellow athletes over many decades. Because of his ability to effectively strategize during bike races by the "come from behind win," he received the nickname of "Snake". Hal excelled in swimming and bicycle racing competition, and later took up golf as a hobby. As a young man, he was a contender for a spot on the Olympic tandem bicycle team. As a senior, he set many national swimming records and held two world records in the Masters program in the 200-meter breaststroke, one record set at the age of 85. His most recent win took 34 seconds off the previous record holder's time. The walls of Hal's study are covered with ribbons, and the shelves are filled with trophies earned through his various athletic achievements.

Hal served as an inspiration for many younger athletes, acting as an informal coach and mentor, encouraging them in their various pursuits of swimming and bicycling. It was his routine for years to bicycle around the neighborhood with his friends and fellow athletes, and he always had a kind word or wave of the hand for everyone he passed. Chris States, one of Hal's younger followers, remembered the hours and miles spent bicycling with him. "Hal said that life was a pursuit race, and I adopted that as my own motto."

Hal's outgoing personality and repertoire of stories and jokes made him much in demand with his friends and at parties. A little known aspect of Hal's talents (although all to well known to his family) was his propensity for leaving hand-drawn cartoons (often with cheeky sayings) about the house for various family members to come upon during their daily doings. In fact, Hal was the founder of the obscure art movement known as Stickism, where humans took the form of stick figures and cats looked like horses and vice versa. This artistic talent was much appreciated by his family.

Another invention of Hal's was the game of "Frizzle Frozzle", where each competitor propelled a tricycle tire with a stick through a tricky course. If the tire fell over at any point during the course, the rest of the participants would yell, "frizzle fozzle!" This game was much enjoyed by Hal and the neighborhood children during long summer evenings.

Hal took each day with a large dose of humor, and was a joy to be around for his family and friends. He lived a very active life through to his 89th year, when a heart ailment finally slowed him down. He will be deeply missed by all who know him. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Fran, his daughters Patti and Diane, his grand-daughters Lisa and Kristi, and his cat Tigger. Services will be held on Saturday, February 23 at 1:30 p.m. at the Hull Funeral Home, 1139 Saranap Avenue, Walnut Creek.

from the Contra Costa Times, printed in Walnut Creek, Calif.

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