(Editor’s Note: The GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal citations, such as this one, are read to the audience at the awards dinner and then presented as a keepsake to the recipients.)
Roger Perry ’71 defies many of the stereotypes of a successful developer: He’s a Democrat in an industry dominated by Republicans; he agitates for affordable housing and makes it an integral part of his own projects; and in a time of doom and gloom in the real estate business, he remains cheerful, even when he’s doling out bad news.
Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy, who has worked with Roger in a wide range of venues, remembers officers in a nonprofit asking for advice from Roger about their facility needs. He told them they needed to tear down their building and put up a new one. “They were stunned,” the mayor said, “but he said it in such a pleasant voice, they agreed.”
Roger’s upbeat attitude has stood him well as he encourages progress in a town that holds tight to its historic roots and often resists growth and change. Some of his most successful projects initially were met with fierce resistance. In the end, Roger turned out to be right. Harry Frampton, one of his business partners at East West Partners, has, throughout the 30-plus years the two have worked together, admired Roger’s commitment to smart growth and building projects that hold up well and serve the community. In the 1980s, Roger developed the 800-acre residential community of Woodcroft just over the Durham line; in the 1990s, he brought plans for the mixed-use development of Meadowmont to the table. And in this decade, he has recently broken ground on the mixed-use condominium development of 54 East on the site once occupied by University Inn.
“Roger always wants to do the right thing in our business,” Harry said.
Mayor Foy seconds that sentiment. While many developers complain about the town’s development regulations, including that 15 percent of new housing must be designated affordable, Roger volunteered to make 30 percent of 54 East affordable. “Nobody has ever done that in Chapel Hill,” Mayor Foy said.
“Roger doesn’t sit around waiting to be told what to do,” Kevin said. “He doesn’t whine, wanting someone to solve his problem for him. He comes up with innovations.”
Roger is a gracious host, except when he invited Harry Frampton – a Clemson alumnus – to dinner during a UNC-Clemson football game. When UNC fell mortally behind, Roger put his foot through the sheetrock in the dining room. “Roger’s always been passionate about The University of North Carolina,” Harry remarked.
That passion shows itself in the countless hours Roger has devoted to leadership positions at the University, time he volunteers over and above his other civic and community projects. He served as a member of UNC’s Board of Visitors from 1995 through 1999. He was appointed to the Board of Trustees in 2003 and was elected its chair in 2007. He is a member of the Lux Libertas Society, which honors those who have donated $1 million or more to Carolina. When a committee was formed to search for a new chancellor, Roger was named its vice chair.
Roger said he and his family – all Carolina alumni – have benefited enormously from their Carolina experience. “Carolina is perhaps the single-most important asset that North Carolina has, in terms of economics and social and health benefits,” he said. “I have pride in the constant upward standard of excellence that has been sustained at this University in the past 20 years.”
In the community, Roger has chaired the Orange County and Triangle chapters of United Way and been involved as a member of Chapel Hill’s Downtown Steering Committee, the Greater Triangle Regional Council Executive Committee, the Regional Transportation Alliance and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce’s Community Leadership Collaboration, among other civic groups.
Those who work with him notice Roger’s sense of responsibility to be a positive force in the community. Roger will likely be pleased to hear that comment. His own aspiration is, he said, “I’d like to be known as someone who gives back more than he takes.”
And his involvement with Carolina is, he says, the most fun part of his work.
The GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal has been awarded since 1978 to alumni and others who have provided outstanding service to the GAA and/or to the University. The award is presented at the annual Alumni Luncheon on the weekend of reunions and Commencement in May. This year’s recipients are Chancellor James Moeser, who is stepping down June 30 after eight years leading the University; Roger Perry ’71, chair of the Board of Trustees; Rusty Carter ’71, secretary of the Board of Trustees; and Dennis and Joan Gillings, who in 2007 donated $50 million to the School of Public Health in addition to their previous service.