Dr. Moreland Perkins, philosophy professor

College Park professor had served as mayor of Riverdale Park

  • Dr. Moreland Perkins
Dr. Moreland Perkins (unknown, Baltimore Sun )
November 16, 2012|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Dr. Moreland Perkins, a philosophy professor who taught at the University of Maryland, College Park and was also former mayor of Riverdale Park, died Nov. 7 of pneumonia at St. Joseph Medical Center.

The Roland Park resident was 85.

"Moreland was highly analytical, sympathetic to mysticism and religion and the spirit of caring for other people. He was a highly principled person," said Dr. John H. Brown, a retired philosophy professor who taught at the University of Maryland, College Park for 39 years.

"The breadth of his capabilities ranged from the analysis of sense perception to taking up Jane Austen's work in his retirement," said Dr. Brown. "He had a deep humanistic and poetic orientation. He was a man of many parts. He really was."

The son of a salesman and a telephone company worker, Moreland Perkins was born and raised in Richmond, Va., where he graduated in 1944 from Thomas Jefferson High School.

After high school, he enrolled at the University of Virginia and then attended the Virginia Military Institute. He served in the Navy during World War II and then entered Harvard University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1948.

Dr. Perkins earned a master's degree in 1949 and his Ph.D. in 1953, both in philosophy, from Harvard.

He taught philosophy at Brown University, Ohio State University, Toronto University, Michigan Technological University and the State University of New York at Cortland before coming to Baltimore to take a fellowship at the Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Perkins joined the faculty at College Park in 1967, where he specialized in philosophy of the mind, teaching both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. He also was an academic adviser to students completing their doctoral dissertations.

"He was demanding. He could be prickly if he disagreed with you, and dressed me down one time," recalled Dr. Brown. "My daughter took several courses from him and had nothing but the highest admiration for him."

He said that during the 1970s and 1980s, Dr. Perkins, whom he described as "a dissenter," had been "a force for democratic procedures during those years of turmoil that came in the wake of Vietnam."

"You have been a colleague of immeasurable value to us. By your example, you have shown your students and continually reminded us what it is to be a philosopher," Dr. Michael Slote, former University of Maryland professor of ethics and chairman of the department, wrote at Dr. Perkins' retirement in 1986.

"You have held us to the highest standards of informed debate in our efforts to judge people and issues — standards we will have difficulty meeting without the example of your uncompromising intellectual integrity," he wrote.

When he retired, the Moreland Perkins Fellowship in Philosophy was established in Dr. Perkins' honor.

In his book, "Sensing the World," which was published in 1983 and won The Journal of Philosophy's Johnsonian Prize, Dr. Perkins did a groundbreaking philosophical analysis of self-perception.

His literary analysis of Jane Austen's work resulted in "Reshaping the Sexes in 'Sense and Sensibility,'" which was published by the University of Virginia in 1998.

He also wrote countless articles in philosophical and literary journals. In recent years, he had entered the world of playwriting with his one-act play, "Against the Dying of the Light."

He also collaborated on a theatrical memoir with his lifelong friend and Harvard classmate, the late David Wheeler, who had been a founder and director of the Theater Company of Boston.

Dr. Perkins, a lifelong supporter of civil rights, was an antiwar activist during the Vietnam War and demonstrated against nuclear proliferation during the arms race of the 1960s.

Active in Democratic politics, Dr. Perkins was elected mayor of Riverdale Park in Prince George's County in 1987 in an election that rejected a machine-style political system.

After serving only seven months, Dr. Perkins, who often battled with members of the town council, resigned, telling The Washington Post in an interview that it had been "seven months of hell."

He told the newspaper that his tenure had been marked by "interminable hostility, obstruction, ugliness, abuse, verbal and physical harassment and attack" by some council members.

Dr. Perkins left Riverdale Park and retired to High Springs, Fla., where he volunteered at Daytona Beach public schools, working with elementary school students. He also helped an academic program for the gifted and talented.

He continued his interest in civil rights by serving as a board member of the Volusia County-Daytona Beach Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Diagnosed with myelodysplasia, Dr. Perkins took up running late in life as a way of combating the disease, which is a forerunner of leukemia. When he was 75, he completed his first marathon.

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