Perry ends activist career South county delegate is quitting House after 12-year stint

'It's the right time'

Unyielding stands may have cost her leadership position

July 19, 1998|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

From the middle of the ice at the Piney Orchard rink in Odenton, Marsha G. Perry yells instructions to the teen-age boys there for a summer hockey camp.

When she says jump, they jump. When she says move, they move.

To the floor of the Maryland House of Delegates, she brings kittens wounded by leg-hold traps to plead that the devices should be outlawed. When she talks, delegates listen. And she doesn't stop talking until they move.

After 12 years as a Democratic state delegate for Anne Arundel RTC County, Perry will leave the House with an unusual trophy -- liners for rubble landfills are now required by the Maryland Department of the Environment. How did she get that? Ten years of fierce fighting.

"She is in mind and spirit a tough lady," said Democratic Del. Mary A. Conroy of Prince George's County.

Perry is leaving behind a legacy of unwavering stands on environmental and educational issues -- stands that probably cost her a chance at House leadership.

The state owes its trail systems set up along abandoned railway lines such as the Baltimore-Annapolis Trail Park in part to her efforts to maintain that land for public use. When Fort Meade was ordered to give up 8,100 acres, Perry urged that it be given to the nearby Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge. And she fought relentlessly against pollutants -- from pesticides to landfills -- that could harm the Chesapeake Bay.

Now the unabashed tree-hugging Democrat has put those days behind her. The ocean's waves, a 48-foot sailboat, a husband who is retired, and an executive job with an ice rink company beckon.

"I took my responsibilities with the legislature like a full-time job," said Perry, who is executive director of power skating for Skate Nation, which owns ice rinks on the East Coast. "I want to be free to be with my family. I've been there 12 years, and I've loved it, but it's the right time" to leave.

Perry first won the House seat vacated by now state Sen. Robert R. Neall, a Republican, in 1986. The New York native had not planned to take up politics or a career after graduating from Cornell University in 1959 with a degree in industrial and labor relations, instead intending to raise her three children.

But after she and her husband, former Washington lawyer Robert X. Perry Jr., moved to Crofton in 1966, a foul odor from an overburdened Patuxent Wastewater Treatment Plant sounded a call to action to Perry.

She spent several years fighting for environmental safeguards for the plant, was appointed by then County Executive Robert A. Pascal -- a Republican -- to the county Utility Oversight Committee and was elected president of the Crofton Civic Association in 1985.

The next year, with Neall running for a spot in Congress, Perry's husband nudged her into a political career.

"One morning at breakfast, he said, 'You should run for his seat, you'd be good,' " Perry said. "He got all my friends to rally around and push me to do it, and I won the first time I ran as a Democrat in a Republican district."

And she won twice more -- always the only successful Democrat in District 33.

After several years on the House Environmental Matters Committee, she was passed over in favor of Del. Michael H. Weir, a Baltimore County Democrat, for the vice chairman's seat, perhaps because she refused to yield on issues.

"She's a hard worker," said County Executive John G. Gary, a Republican and a former delegate. "I don't agree on what she spent all her energy on, but no one could say she didn't put in her time."

Said Conroy: "She wants to do what's right. Most politicians don't do what's right. The legislature is sorely going to miss her."

Pub Date: 7/19/98

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