Theodore's World: Rick Perry’s parents say their son is strong medicine needed by a sickly nation

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November 08, 2011

Rick Perry’s parents say their son is strong medicine needed by a sickly nation

Rick Perry’s parents say their son is strong medicine needed by a sickly nation

Dallas Morning News

PAINT CREEK, Texas — Rick Perry may be the 61-year-old governor of Texas, and a candidate for president of the United States, but he’s always going to be Amelia Perry’s baby.

And in these parts, you don’t talk bad about a woman’s baby.

Consider this recent exchange at St. John’s Methodist Church in Stamford, a small town about 16 miles from the Perry family’s homestead in Paint Creek.

The Rev. John Erwin stood in the pulpit of the historic church and offered what many may consider a sad but safe observation about the world — politicians lie.

That’s when 82-year-old Amelia Perry’s voice rose above the sermon.

“John, my son is the governor of the great state of Texas,” she said. “And he is not a liar.”

The pastor paused briefly, then galloped on with the message.

A few minutes later, he repeated the fightin’ words — politicians lie.

This time, Amelia Perry stood from her pew.

“I told you once,” she said, her voice icy. “My son is not a liar.”

A moment of uncomfortable silence was followed by waves of laughter.

After years of shooing reporters off their doorstep, Rick Perry’s parents — Ray, an 86-year-old cattleman, and Amelia, an expert quilter — agreed last week to an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with The Dallas Morning News.

The ground rules were this: They would not talk about politics, dignify salacious rumors or criticize their son’s opponents for the GOP nomination.

“I probably shouldn’t be doing this because Rick asked us not to, but somebody needs to know,” said Amelia Perry, handing out candy at a Halloween carnival sponsored by First United Methodist Church in Haskell.

“The country is declining and we need somebody who can turn it around. If we don’t, these children, and my grandchildren, will never know the America we know.”

Ray Perry, who served 28 years on the Haskell County Commissioners Court, sat nearby under a black cowboy hat. His Western shirt is starched crisp, his denim jeans creased.

“Life is a whole lot different out here than it is in Dallas,” he said, motioning to swarms of children buzzing by in costumes. “I’m 86 years old. What business do I have sitting out here watching these little kiddos?

“I don’t believe they do that in Dallas. They’re not as close as we are out here in sparsely populated West Texas.”

The Perrys say their son’s church training, pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps work ethic and straight-shootin’ style is the strong medicine needed by a sickly nation.

“The way we look at it, this country needs Rick Perry because he’s the kind of person who will lead,” said his daddy. “We certainly don’t need another Obama; we don’t make any bones about that.”

For the most part, the Perrys painted their son in the pastels used by proud parents.

“I may be a little biased, but I don’t think he’s perfect and I don’t always agree with him,” said Amelia Perry. “But he’s smarter than I am and he wants what’s best for America.”

On more controversial topics — sexual harassment allegations against current Republican front-runner Herman Cain or the racial epithet once painted on a rock at the family’s hunting lodge — they offered a simple “No comment.”

‘Little bitty’ politician

The Perry family’s political heritage extends at least back to the 1880s in West Texas when the governor’s great-great-grandfather, W.D. Hamilton, served in the state Legislature from Trinity County. His grandfather and father were both elected leaders in Haskell County.

Politics is in the blood, and Ray Perry said he could see it in his son when he was 7 or 8 at the former Methodist Church in Paint Creek.

Before each service, men would gather outside in knots to discuss issues of the day.

Little Rick Perry started on the outside of the circle, but it didn’t take long for him to work his way inside. He wanted to be heard.

“He’s always been a politician, ever since he’s been little bitty,” said Ray Perry. “He’d get hold of one of those coattails and tug on it. He wanted those men to recognize him, and he’d even join in the conversation.”

Perry raised 4-H animals and thrived in the Boy Scouts, where he eventually earned an Eagle Scout badge. He was the popular quarterback of Paint Creek High School, which, because of its size, played six-man football.

The scheme fit Perry, who was a scrawny teenager but a fast one. When he would get on the edge, or turn the corner, he often went all the way.

Making a name

That was his style in politics, too.

Perry was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1984 as a Democrat.

In six years, he earned a reputation as a fiscal conservative who would occasionally vote to open the state’s checkbook.

In 1989, he defected to the GOP and ran against popular Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower.

The Perrys said they were not surprised when their son pulled off the long-shot victory.

“You won’t find anyone who works harder when he’s campaigning than Rick Perry,” said his dad. “He works at it constantly. The first time he ran for statewide office, people would say, ‘Rick who?’

“But Rick had a Cessna 310, and he was a pilot. He absolutely wore that airplane out campaigning around the state.”

He has since been elected Texas lieutenant governor, took over the state’s highest office in December 2000 when George W. Bush resigned to become president and won three full terms as governor, in 2002, 2006 and 2010.

On Aug. 13, Perry announced in South Carolina that he would seek the Republican nomination for president.

‘He works hard’

Amelia Perry said everyone believes their children are the smartest, strongest and most beautiful creatures on earth. She did, too, while raising Rick Perry and his older sister, Milla.

But there were times she sensed something special in the boy with a square jaw and thick flop of brown hair.

During his sophomore year in high school, Rick Perry asked his daddy for two things — a drum set and a motorcycle.

His daddy replied, “I’m not buying you a drum set and I’ll never buy you a motorcycle, but you can have a horse.”

So, they found a sturdy pony at a fair price and drove out to Big Spring to pick him up.

When they got back to their ranch, Ray Perry told his son to untie the horse and ease him out of the trailer.

Moments later, his son was screaming.

The horse had reared on its hind legs and come down on the young boy. His arm was snapped, and a piece of jagged bone protruded from the skin.

Perry’s arm was eventually set in Abilene, about 60 miles away.

Doctors weren’t sure it would ever work right again.

But Rick Perry wanted to play football his senior year of high school, and he dreamed of flying. So, he took to physical therapy with gusto — push-ups, pull-ups for hours each week, building back the muscle and mobility.

“He wasn’t a large teenager, but he wanted to play football,” his mother said. “By the time he went back to school that next fall, he had grown 3 or 4 inches and put on 14 or 15 pounds.

“He works hard. Rick Perry works hard at everything he does.”

After graduating from Texas A&M, Perry did join the Air Force and become a pilot. He flew C-130 transport planes around the globe, retiring in 1977 with the rank of captain.

“I think the big jolt for Rick Perry was when he came home from the Air Force and moved back into his bedroom at home,” said his mother. “He had been a captain in the Air Force and he’d been all over the world, commanding those boys.”

In some ways, it was a time of self-discovery.

After leaving the Air Force, Perry was so glad to be home he said he would never leave Haskell County. But it didn’t take long for him to realize the wide-open prairie wouldn’t hold his dreams.

His parents said he would take off for days at a time, with nothing but a bedroll, his horse and old dog named Kelly.

“He was a farm boy and a rancher’s son and he just liked this West Texas life,” said Amelia Perry. “He might spend a night or two down there by the Brazos River, hunting, and then he’d throw a deer up on the back of the saddle and come on home. He’s just like that.”

‘It could happen’

Rick Perry’s life has changed a lot since those carefree days.

His parents can’t pick him up at the airport, even if they wanted to. And when they walk down the street with their son in Austin, they try to stay in the background.

But in other ways — important ways — Ray and Amelia Perry say their son is the same rough-hewn, square-jawed, level-headed West Texas boy who used to run around in their back pasture.

They say if he wants to president of the United States, God willing, he will be president.

“I was born and raised to think there may be a lot of people who are richer than I am, and prettier than I am, but there’s nobody better than I am, as long as I’m trying to live right,” said Amelia Perry.

“And I raised my children that way, to think they can do anything. And I believe it could happen.”


Wild Thing's comment........

What dear parents he has. This ia a special story about them.

Posted by Wild Thing at November 8, 2011 04:50 AM


Looking at the picture of Rick's father, you can tell that's a man who's worked hard all his life. Those are the men and women who made this nation great and those are the men and women Obama is out to destroy.

Posted by: BobF at November 8, 2011 07:43 AM

"After years of shooing reporters off their doorstep..." At first I thought it said "shooting reporters off the porch" I was sooo disappointed. Good article! "...with nothing but a bedroll, his horse and old dog named Kelly...spend a night or two..." Nice!

Posted by: gsebes at November 8, 2011 08:02 AM

Good American folks from flyover country. Contrast the Perrys to the Occupy Wall Street thugs. Contrast the Perrys to the Ivy League elites we have had in the WH for way too long. In less than a year now we may be able to be proud of a president again.

Posted by: TomR, armed in Texas at November 8, 2011 09:34 AM

Thank you for the great input all of you. Love it!!

Posted by: Wild Thing at November 9, 2011 03:10 AM