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John A. Perkins

September 13, 1919 October 12, 2018
John A.  Perkins
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Obituary for John A. Perkins

John Allen Perkins, 99, of East Providence, RI, formerly of Dedham, MA, died on October 12.

Born in New Bedford, Massachusetts on September 13, 1919, John spent most of his childhood in Padanaram, attended Harvard College (’40) and Harvard Law School (’43) before going to work for the War Production Board in Washington, DC. When the war ended, he returned to Boston to practice law. He and his wife, Lydia, settled in Dedham, Massachusetts where together they raised their four children.

John was a partner in the law firm of Palmer & Dodge in Boston, Massachusets and active in many professional organizations in his field, including the Boston Bar Association, where he served as President 1982-1984. Early in his career, John focused on trials and related appellate work. Later he shifted to trusts and estates and served as one of the managing partners guiding the direction of the firm. He also served on the firm’s hiring committee and surprised many an applicant by asking them what they enjoyed doing when not being a lawyer. If an applicant didn't have some outside passion, they were unlikely to make the grade.

John Perkins was a leader in his chosen field. But he was also more.

For more than 30 years John harbored a quiet, enduring pride in the work that he did as the founding President of the Trustees of Landmark College. Landmark opened its doors in Putney, VT in 1985, the first college in the nation to pioneer college-level coursework for students with dyslexia. Over the years it has evolved to be a leader in the broader field of learning difference with a mission to “transform the way students learn, educators teach, and the public thinks about education.”

Twenty years after its founding, the college bestowed on John an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in recognition of his years of dedicated service to the college. In his Convocation address John talked about the mission of the college, his family’s experiences with learning differences at an earlier time, and the evolution that had taken place at the college during his tenure as a Trustee. He closed by talking about a young man he had met on a transatlantic flight whom, it developed, was a student at Landmark. Much discussion ensued. Later in the flight the young man woke from a half sleep, turned to him, and with emotion in his voice said, “Landmark College has given me a new life.” It is this, the possibility of new life for students with learning differences, that kept John working with Landmark all those years. As he said in his address, “I understood… What we at Landmark are about is ultimately a moral imperative. Every human has the right to pursue the gifts with which he or she is blessed and the needs and aspirations at the heart of our being.”

Landmark College was a passion for John. But he had other interest as well. He loved— and lived— music. He grew up singing show tunes with his siblings while they did the dishes. He learned as a 16 year old freshman at Harvard College that there were opportunities for students on a budget to attend concerts at the Boston Symphony. He bought season tickets and continued uninterrupted for 80 years. In his later years John could still recount how he felt in the summer of 1937 when he got the call to join his Harvard College chorus to sing the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth at the very first concert by the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood. He would describe the rush he felt facing Koussevitzky as he conducted from the podium. John served for many years as a member of the Board of Overseers of the Boston Symphony. When he stepped down from his position as chair of the board of education in his home town of Dedham, he took up the cello, playing with the Parkway Concert Orchestra. In his final year, he could be found at any time of day or night singing oldies. Music sustained him.

During the 1980s and 90s, John was deeply involved with the work of the Lawyers’ Alliance for World Security (L.A.W.S.), the legal profession’s lead organization concerned with preventing nuclear war. John retired from the practice of law in 1989 and turned to his professional avocation — international law, which he taught at Boston University Law School until 2003.

John is the author of two books and many scholarly articles. In 1978 he took a sabbatical from his law practice in order to spend six months as a graduate researcher at University College, Oxford where he completed work on "The Prudent Peace: Law as Foreign Policy" (University of Chicago Press, 1981). "The Heart of the Art: Reflections on the Human Side of Estate Planning" was published in 2006.

John’s summer life on North Haven Island off the coast of Maine was a deep and enduring part of his life with family, friends, and the natural surroundings. Always dedicated to a life with the sea, he and Lydia spent much joyful time cruising the coast. They had remarkable adventures in their daysailer cruising alone and “gamming” with yachting friends before they acquired their beloved Medric, a 30-foot Vineyard Vixen on which they sailed Penobscot Bay and explored the inlets and islands up and down the Maine coast.

John Perkins is survived by his four children; John A. Jr. and his wife Nancy of Tiverton, RI; Susan W. Graseck and her husband Paul of Pawtucket, RI; Robert C. and his wife Kate of Camden, ME; and William B. and his wife Karen of Concord, MA; ten grandchildren, and fourteen great grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 2pm on Saturday, November 3 at the Trinity Episcopal Church, located at 81 Elm Street in Concord, Massachusetts. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Landmark College in honor of John A. Perkins.


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