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Former FAMU president dies 11 days after being hit by car

Dr. Benjamin L. Perry Jr., a former Florida A&M University president called the "Savior of FAMU," died Friday from injuries suffered when he was struck by an automobile. He was 79.

Funeral services are scheduled for Wednesday in Tallahassee.

Dr. Perry had been hospitalized since March 10, when he was hit by a car while out for an early morning walk in Tallahassee.

He stepped off a curb in front of his home, apparently unaware of an approaching automobile, a police spokesman said.

President from 1968 to 1977 of the predominantly black school, Dr. Perry inherited major problems. Student unrest had broken out during the administration of his predecessor, George W. Gore Jr., as part of the civil rights movement.

In addition to the lingering student unrest, Dr. Perry also faced an effort by the Legislature to either close the university or merge FAMU with Florida State University, which also is in Tallahassee.

Some lawmakers thought it would make financial sense to merge the two schools. Others questioned the need for a separate institution for black students.

Perry stood firm against merger and extinction.

"Perry had to cater to that kind of political and social mood," Dr. Leedell W. Neyland said in 1987, the centennial of what is sometimes called the "stepchild" in the state university system.

"When he retired (in 1977), he was the "Savior of FAMU,'

" said Neyland, co-author with John W. Riley of The History of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.

Dr. Perry was a university-trained farmer with three degrees, including a doctorate from Cornell in agriculture. His fatherwas FAMU's dean of agriculture for 20 years.

Dr. Perry was born in Eatonville, a small, predominantly black community near Orlando. He moved with his parents to Tallahassee in the early 1930s. He went to high school there, then majored in agriculture education at A&M College.

While still in college, his father bought a 90-acre farm near Tallahassee for his son to run. He had 1,000 chickens and some livestock and he raised vegetables. The venture never had a chance.

Just before World War II, the government condemned his land, paid him $50 an acre for it and built an airport on the site.

The incident left him "without a farm, a job or a future and mighty bitter. They took my neighbor's farm, too, but he was white and he got $110 an acre," he recalled. "It was a lesson in what it meant in those days to be a powerless black boy."

He went to Iowa State College for a master's degree in agriculture economics. Ten days after receiving his diploma, he was drafted. He served four years in the Army Corps of Engineers. He saw combat in half a dozen major battles in the Pacific islands.

In 1950, he joined FAMU as an economics instructor. Except for a two-year stint as dean of students at the University of Nigeria, he remained at FAMU for the remainder of his career.

Successively, he was dean of men, professor of economics and director of research and grants before his appointments as dean of administration and president.

"He has a light touch, a great sense of humor and appears to be quite easygoing," former university Chancellor Robert B. Mautz said in 1972 in describing Dr. Perry. "But I can tell you that he has a spine of steel and can make the tough decision. He became president at a crucial point in the history of Florida A&M University, and he has moved it miles _ straight ahead."

_ Information from Times files was used in this obituary.

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