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Man who died in Clearwater lightning strike was Scot who loved soccer and life

Garry L. Perks, 32, died three days after he was struck by lightning July 21 on Clearwater Beach. He was a father of two and a soccer player. He was born in Scotland and had been living in the United States for about a decade. [Courtesy of Perks family]
Published Aug. 6

Click here to read this story in Spanish.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Garry Perks grew up playing soccer in the scenic highlands of northern Scotland and never stopped after he came to the United States a decade ago.

Now, grieving family and friends will celebrate Perks' life back in his home country.

A lightning bolt struck the 32-year-old New Port Richey man July 21 on Clearwater Beach. He died in a hospital three days later. Seven other people were injured.

"He loved life," said his brother, Liam Perks, in an interview from Scotland. "He always made friends. He knew everybody and everybody knew who he was."

RELATED STORY: Eight injured in Clearwater Beach lightning strike

Perks, who remained a British national, moved to Florida about a year ago for a job at Lowe's, his brother said. He had a girlfriend here and lived with a daughter and son.

He spent his free time cracking jokes, lounging by the beach and coaching kids' soccer.

He was cremated and his remains will be flown to Scotland.

RELATED STORY: New Port Richey man dies from lightning strike Sunday on Clearwater Beach, police say

Liam Perks first heard of the tragedy in a phone call from his mother and younger brother. At first, hearing about such a rare and dramatic event, he thought they were joking. It's the kind of prank he might expect his two brothers to pull.

Once he learned it was true, he said, it just felt surreal.

Garry Perks was the middle child. His siblings joked that he was the favorite child, "even though he wasn't really," Liam Perks said.

RELATED: Five things to know about lightning after Clearwater Beach strike

The two played soccer together in Tain, a small town in northern Scotland where the game called football outside the United States is big. Nearby are sweeping North Sea views and the Glenmorangie whisky distillery.

Liam, a defender, hated playing against his brother, a striker who could hit the net.

Garry Perks moved to America to play soccer in college, first in Iowa and then in Georgia.

A player profile at Shorter University in Rome, Ga., said he came to Shorter from Marshalltown Community College in Iowa and competed at forward. He listed his favorite movie as Toy Story and his hero as French soccer great Zinedine Zidane, now the coach of Real Madrid.

Perks graduated in 2012 from Shorter with a bachelor's degree in business administration/sport management, a school spokeswoman said.

He had previously played in Scotland for soccer teams Tain Thistle and Brora Rangers.

"Everyone connected to Tain Thistle is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of club legend Garry Perks," the Tain Thistle team posted on Twitter and Facebook. "He will be greatly missed by all who played with him or enjoyed watching him."

When the lightning hit at Clearwater Beach on July 21, a Sunday, a group of people near Frenchy's Rockaway Grill were tossed to the ground. Garry Perks never got back up.

He was directly hit and suffered a cardiac arrest. Perks and three others were taken to Morton Plant Hospital, one was taken to Tampa General Hospital for treatment of burns, and three declined a trip to the hospital.

Authorities have not released their names. Liam Perks said he has heard that they recovered from their injuries.

The Medical Examiner's Office listed Garry Perks' cause of death as complications of electrocution.

Once his brother moved away, Liam Perks would close the distance between them by catching up on the phone, he said.

The two last talked four days before Garry was struck by lightning. They discussed how Liam might come to Florida to visit his brother.

"Some days, you wake up and think everything's fine," he said, "and two hours later, you think, 'Christ, he's dead.'"

Staff writer Sarah Verschoor contributed to this report. Contact Paige Fry at pfry@tampabay.com. Follow @paigexfry

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