Weekly Newspaper covering Marion, Schley, Chattahoochee, Webster, and Stewart Counties.
Remembering Marion County's Perry,
the state's great Sardine Senator
From the July 31, 2013 issue of The Journal
Marion County lost one of its most influential residents of the past century last Wednesday. Eldridge Perry served as a state representative and state senator in the 50s and 60s. He was the youngest Marion County resident to serve as a senator.
Older local residents familiar with his tenure as an elected official knew him as the man who helped bring paved roads and telephone lines to the area.
He joked that people thought he was the telephone man and claimed to get phone line repair requests well into his 80s.
His colleagues affectionately referred to him as the Sardine Senator due to the sack of sardines, potted meat, cheese and crackers that the small-town grocer hauled to the Capitol on a regular basis.
He once told me that he had worked his way through ABAC making 15 cents an hour. His sack lunches were a sign of how he maintained a humble yet confident demeanor while working alongside the states most powerful people.
He also told me more than once of stepping out of a chauffeured car and into a brief confrontation with my late grandfather, Sweat Harris, who lived across from him on Oliver Street in Buena Vista. Sadly I cannot print the colorful exchange, but Mr. Perry said he always remembered it and it helped him keep his ego in check as he rose through the political ranks.
Of course he laughed and told the self-effacing tale with the flare of a talented country storyteller, a skill that undoubtedly helped him be a successful legislator.
That was one of many humorous tales he shared with me. Some of them involved my dad, Charlie Harris, when he was a young boy. For example: Mr. Perry had a cold watermelon and offered my dad a taste. He promptly cut the heart out of that watermelon and left Mr. Perry with not much more than the rind.
My grandfather died before I was born and it is always neat to hear stories about your parents when they were children, so I was always entertained and grateful for the stories.
As a newspaper man I am also grateful for his role in developing the Georgia Sunshine Laws. He is one of the forgotten fathers of open state government. He and a small handful of senators sponsored the 1959 Open Records Act. Enough time has passed for the public to take open records for granted, but it was actually controversial at the time and all citizens who believe in government transparency owe a debt of gratitude to the Sardine Senator.
Those unfamiliar with his earlier years knew Mr. Perry as a talkative and friendly man who enjoyed to play farm at Perrys Pleasant Pastures in Tazewell where he and his wife, Doris, had a two-room bunkhouse with a kitchen and spacious eating/visiting area. It was a hop, skip, and stones throw from the two-room schoolhouse he attended as a child (the current Tazewell Community Center).
It was in that small school that he said he learned how to wrap biscuits up in a newspaper in such a way that they could be thrown across the room without coming loose. He laughed and said it was one of his most valuable skills and one that he would never forget.
I was not always sure how much of his tales to believe, but one thing is for sure. Mr. Perry was plenty valuable to his community and to his state, and hopefully that is something that we will never forget.
The late Senator