A Major Mover In The Rowing World
Last month, Mystic Seaport lost a great friend and collaborator with the passing of William “Hart” Hartwell Perry, Jr. As coach, advisor, and administrator, Hart was one of a kind. Through his work as Executive Director of the National Rowing Foundation, Hart lead the effort to establish the Rowing Hall of Fame here at Mystic Seaport. We are very proud of this distinction and we have Hart, above all, to thank for it.
Paul O’Pecko, our Vice President of Collections and Research, worked with Hart closely during the creation of the Hall of Fame, and he has written a fine remembrance which we present to our members below. Our thoughts and prayers are with Hart’s wife, Gillian, and his family. Hart will long be remembered by his friends at Mystic Seaport.
William Hartwell “Hart” Perry Jr., August 23, 1933 – February 3, 2011
A Major Mover In The Rowing World
by Paul O’Pecko
His title at Mystic Seaport was “Adjunct Curator of Rowing.” It is not a title that jumps off the page and makes you stand at attention. Very unlike the person. Hart Perry was that person and he was akin to “the little engine that could,” except that he skipped the “I think I can” phase and went straight to the “I know I can” stage. Hart was a unique individual who had the knack of getting people to listen to him and convincing them that they wanted to do what he needed them to do.
As the very successful head of the National Rowing Foundation, Hart spearheaded an effort for years that raised millions of dollars to send our national rowing teams to championships and the Olympics all over the world. His virtues as a coach have been extolled in speeches, print and, I am told, even song. Among his many awards, in 2009, he and his wife, Gill, were honored with the USRowing Medal, and two weeks before he passed away, he received the International Rowing Federation, FISA’s World Rowing Distinguished Service to Rowing Award. In his role as Adjunct Curator, he helped to preserve some of the most important information, artifacts and publications of rowing history by convincing Mystic Seaport to create a Rowing Hall of Fame and then cajoling and convincing the keepers of that information, those artifacts and publications, to donate them to the Hall of Fame. In this way he managed to reinforce the memories of those who visit and participated in the sport, while encouraging novices in the sport to engage in the long, rich history of one of the few sports that has its roots in the everyday work of the everyday man.
Along with Gill, Hart was a major mover of other local events in Mystic, including the annual Coastweeks Regatta and the Battle Between the Bridges that brought amateur and Olympic-level rowers to the Mystic River. Hart and Gill worked diligently to pull off the first-ever Hall of Fame induction ceremony that brought over 250 people to the Museum in March of 2010. Hart and Gill also recruited a volunteer group, “Ready All Row”. The initial mission was to recondition, using a lot of paint and sweat equity, a suite of rooms in the G.W. Blunt White Building at Mystic Seaport and transform them into the Rowing Hall of Fame. The work that Hart and Gill accomplished with the volunteer group is just as evident in the section of the Rossie Mill that houses an extensive collection of shells and equipment. Hart and his volunteers have turned the “Hall” and the Mill into a pilgrimage destination for current and former rowers on all levels, from around the country.
My favorite memory of Hart, though, has to do with his championing youth rowing. Mystic Seaport and the Mystic River are home to a local high school rowing team, and at a ceremony in summer 2010, Hart was recognized by the group in a very meaningful way. A brand new eight was christened the Hart Perry. The smile on his face that this honor produced is one I will not soon forget. Hart’s legacy will live on, not only in giving his name to this boat and numerous others, but in many programs small and large. He was a man who touched countless people and I am glad to be included among them.
Paul O’Pecko is Vice President of Collections and Research at Mystic Seaport.