When the Robert Perry family began picking up the pieces after losing two family members, they found a family motto: “Perry Grit.” Now the Kim and Dr. Michael Perry Memorial Scholarship at the University of Mississippi will help juniors and seniors who possess the kind of drive and passion that defined the couple.
Mississippi mourned in the wake of the 2016 plane crash near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, that took the lives of six people, including Kim and Michael Perry, of Oxford. The Perrys were known for touching countless lives through their generous and selfless actions, leading brother Robert Perry, family members and friends to create a scholarship endowment.
“Michael considered himself a bit of an underdog at times and that’s why he was very much for the underdog,” Robert Perry said. “The intangible part of this scholarship is its designation for those who have that hustle, grit, integrity and work ethic to show the world that they will do something in life and make a difference, and then turn around and give back to their community.”
The Perry Scholarship Endowment was created for ambitious students who also show commitment to innovation in their particular fields of study. Selected students will be better equipped to carry on the Perrys’ legacy.
The motivation to create a scholarship for hardworking students effectively came from Michael Perry himself, said Stewart Rutledge, a longtime family friend from Oxford.
“When you lose someone like him, you quickly ask yourself what he would want,” Rutledge said. “Michael made that clear in his life, so it was easy. He would have wanted us all to continue to give like he did, and, in this scholarship, we are supporting free-market thinkers and hardworking entrepreneurs.
“Michael was a teach-a-man-to-fish guy, but he’d just as soon give that man the fish when the work was over. It is rare to see that combination, and this scholarship will hopefully do some small justice to what we have lost in Michael’s and Kim’s passings.”
Robert Perry said a scholarship was a natural choice.
“My brother and I worked really hard when we were growing up and going through school, and we both needed assistance,” he said. “That’s why this scholarship is for someone who, on paper, looks like an average student, but has that hustle and drive. We wanted to foster that and give them support.”
Although natives of Brandon, the Perry family’s roots run deep in Oxford and at Ole Miss.
Michael Perry earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Ole Miss in 1995 and a Doctor of Dental Medicine from the UM School of Dentistry in 1999, while Kim earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the School of Nursing in 1996. She went on to earn a master’s in nursing and a post-master’s degree as a family nurse practitioner. Michael Perry pursued postdoctoral training in periodontics.
Robert Perry also graduated from Ole Miss with an undergraduate degree in accountancy and an MBA, while his wife, Ashley Perry, holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education.
The Perrys left behind three children: Sarah, John West and Anna Reed. Shortly after their parents’ deaths, Ashley and Robert Perry moved to Oxford with their four children – Knox, Ada Grace, Lucy and Annie – to be guardians, becoming a family of nine.
“Ashley and I love Oxford and visited here frequently to see Michael, Kim and their kids,” Robert Perry said. “But when we moved here, there was a lot that we didn’t really know how to navigate, like how to get the kids enrolled in school and gymnastics or ballet classes and sports.
“The community was very supportive and helpful to us in doing all that.”
Michael Perry owned a dental practice of five clinics in Mississippi and the Memphis area; Kim was a nurse practitioner in the Ole Miss Student Health Center.
“Kim really took on the role of a mother figure to the students, especially the girls who were away from home for the first time and without their moms,” Robert Perry said. “She valued being able to offer them that kind of support, was a great listener and had a great bedside manner. She loved taking care of students.”
Clay Dibrell, co-director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the School of Business Administration, said he’s grateful for the Perrys’ vision in establishing such a unique scholarship.
“This scholarship allows students who may not have the highest GPA but are exceedingly entrepreneurial the opportunity to have a scholarship and to realize their passion for entrepreneurship,” he said.
Besides their professional careers, Kim Perry was an officer in two parents associations and active with Meals on Wheels and the Junior Auxiliary. Michael Perry dedicated his energies to developing and funding the 73-acre Oxford-Lafayette Sportsplex because “he thought that every kid should have a place to play sports.” They also were involved with St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church.
Kim and Michael’s grit and giving spirits will live on.
“We talk about Michael and Kim all the time and try to keep them present in the kids’ memories,” Robert Perry said. “The scholarship is one more way to keep telling that story. We hope that people contribute to the scholarship for years to come – maybe on Kim’s and Michael’s birthdays, the anniversary of their deaths or other special occasions.
“I think it’s also important that people know that when they make a contribution, it is going back into a student, similar to how Michael and Kim dedicated themselves to giving back to kids in the community and the students they knew in their lives.”
Individuals and organizations can make gifts to the Kim and Dr. Michael Perry Scholarship Endowment by mailing a check with the fund noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655. Online gifts can be made at or at http://perryscholarship.com/.
For more information, contact Denson Hollis, executive director of development, at 662-915-5092 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Mary Stanton Knight