One thing that Lee Perry will miss about spending time with his father, Elder L. Tom Perry, is their shared love of sports.
"I’m going to miss talking about (Boston) Red Sox games or any other sport with him,” Lee Perry told one reporter in an interview following his father’s death over the weekend.
Elder Perry, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died Saturday from the effects of cancer. The 92-year-old LDS Church leader, who served more than four decades as an apostle, was also a passionate fan of professional and collegiate sports. He primarily followed the Red Sox, the BYU Cougars and Utah State, his alma mater.
According to the biography "An Uncommon Life," written by Lee Perry, the family first embraced the Red Sox in 1967 when residing in Boston, where Elder Perry was then serving as a stake president. The team wasn't supposed to do well that year, but surprised the baseball world by winning the American League pennant. The Red Sox reached Game 7 of the World Series but lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. In the process, however, they captured the hearts of the Perry family.
"Tom and Lee renounced all previous allegiances to other major league baseball teams and became avid Sox fans," Lee Perry wrote in the book.
In 1972, Elder Perry was called to be an assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve, which required the family to move from Boston to Utah. It was a difficult move because the family adored the New England area, but they remained loyal to their baseball team. Following the Red Sox became a favorite family tradition.
In 1975, the Red Sox were in the World Series with the Cincinnati Reds, trying to end a world championship drought that extended back to 1918. The family watched every pitch and hit, especially relishing Carlton Fisk’s 12th-inning home run in Game 6.
“We thought we were going to win it,” Lee Perry said in a 2014 interview. “It was up and down, but we thought we had a legitimate chance to break the curse back in 1975. That was a real bonding experience for us. At the end of the day, I really think that’s why the Red Sox tradition has stayed with us as a family. It was those experiences together.”
In 2004, at age 82, Elder Perry was invited to throw out the first pitch at Fenway Park on “LDS Day” in front of a large crowd that included about 2,000 local members of the church and full-time missionaries. Elder Perry's family was also there that day. Boston pitcher Curt Schilling threw a complete game to lift the Red Sox to a 9-1 win over the Kansas City Royals.
Elder Perry’s daughter, Linda Nelson, wondered if something magical happened that day. Later that season, Boston made a historic run to win the world series.
“Things turned around that day,” Nelson said. “We felt it was our father’s trip to the mound in Fenway Park that reversed the curse.”
“I think it was Elder (Robert D.) Hales (of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) that came to that conclusion,” Lee Perry said. “He is a big New York Yankees fan. But he proclaimed that Elder Perry broke the curse of the Great Bambino.”
Elder Perry was on a church assignment in Europe when the Red Sox won it all that year. His family awoke him in Germany with an early morning phone call to celebrate the thrilling occasion.
When Boston won the World Series again in 2007, Lee Perry was serving as a mission president in California, preventing another family celebration.
Finally, in 2013, the family was together when the Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals.
“We got to be together, and that was very exciting for all of us,” Lee Perry said.
Outside of baseball season, Elder Perry was a loyal fan of BYU athletics. Cougar basketball coach Dave Rose said Elder Perry would often visit the Marriott Center locker room after a game to shake hands with each player and share a positive word of encouragement, regardless of the game’s outcome.
“Elder Perry was a real fan," Rose said. "We’ve had quite a few of the Brethren that have come over the years, but he’s among those we saw the most. He was also a Utah State fan. He spoke at one of our father-son sports camps and wore his Utah State tie to make sure everyone knew he had a dual allegiance."
Elder Perry once told Rose to “be good to these boys.” Basketball is just one of the many things they are dealing with, so encourage, help, guide and lead them, Rose recounted.
That advice has stayed with him, Rose said, because he never knows who might show up in the locker room.
“I’m not looking around to see who is at the game,” Rose said. “Then you see Elder Perry (or another general authority) in the locker room, and I think to myself, ‘OK, how did I treat the guys tonight? I hope I treated them good tonight.’”
Jeff Chatman played basketball for BYU in the mid-1980s. In December 1987, Chatman joined the church. One of his most cherished memories came after a victory when Elder Perry came into the locker room to congratulate the team.
Elder Perry was one of a kind, he said.
“As everyone knows, he was an outstanding, wonderful person, always smiling, always approachable, and not just with the athletes; he was that way with everybody,” Chatman said. “He made everybody feel like they were the best person in the world and had a capacity to make people feel comfortable and good about themselves. He showed an abundance of love with everyone he came in contact with. He was an amazing, remarkable person.”
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