RICHARD PERRY / 1938-2005
Firefighters union leader united state membership
Richard "Black" Perry headed the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association for 13 consecutive two-year terms, garnering a reputation as a tough, fair negotiator who backed his membership but could have friends in management.
"Black Perry is one of the ones who took this unknown union and made it into the strongest unions in the state," said Honolulu Fire Chief Attilio Leonardi, who had known Perry since 1971. "For the firefighters of Hawaii, this is a major loss."
Perry, who was able to bring firefighters from all islands under the association's umbrella during his tenure, died Thursday after suffering a heart attack. He was 67.
"Black has always been there for the department," Leonardi said. "He was 100 percent HFD."
Perry recently served on the blue-ribbon panel to help narrow down candidates for Leonardi's successor.
He has also been a mentor to association President Bobby Lee, who was voted into office after Perry retired in 1998.
"No matter how chaotic things got, he had these little spurts of advice just to make you stop and think and get grounded," Lee said. "What made him strong was the fact that when he went into negotiations, it was very clear to the employer that he had 100 percent of the membership behind him."
Perry joined the department in 1962 and became the union's president a decade later. When he retired, he was a captain assigned to the Hawaii Kai substation.
Lee said one of Perry's greatest accomplishments was getting firefighter unions on the neighbor islands to join the association.
He also was a strong swimmer and helped dozens of people in water rescues at the Blowhole and Sandy Beach.
In his free time, he enjoyed golfing and free-diving.
Just last week, Lee went to Perry's house for a four-hour talk, in which the two caught up on union news and the retired firefighter's "philosophy on life."
"I hadn't seen him in a little while," Lee said. "I'm glad I got the chance."
Services are pending. He is survived by wife Stella, sons Richard and Denniz, daughter Toni Lee Naone and five grandchildren.