The University of Texas at Austin honored Shirley Bird Perry and her rich history with the Texas Union by naming the Texas Union Ballroom in her honor during a dedication ceremony Thursday, Oct. 24.
A pioneer in the growth of university unions across the country, Perry also served in university administration leadership roles for nearly five decades.
"This honor will recognize Shirley Bird's devotion to her work at UT Austin for generations to come," said President Bill Powers. "She is an important part of our university's history. We are naming a magnificent space for a magnificent woman."
Perry was named program director at the Texas Union after graduating from the university in 1958 and later became its director. Under her direction, the union played a major role in the lives of students. Many of those students who participated in its programs became her lifetime friends. Among other accomplishments, Perry coordinated appearances at the Union by distinguished speakers such as Martin Luther King Jr., Sen. Robert Kennedy and poet Marianne Moore.
"In the 80 years of the Texas Union at UT Austin, no name looms larger than Shirley Bird's," said Gage E. Paine, vice president for student affairs. "She served as a teacher and mentor to generations of students, especially student leaders here on the Forty Acres. She never lost sight of the core purpose of this institution to prepare our young people for productive lives."
Texas Union staffers have also unveiled a permanent exhibit in the Texas Union's Board of Directors' Room to honor Perry's legacy. With memorabilia donated by her husband, Sam Perry, the exhibit will focus on Perry's life and career and will be updated each semester.
"The university nurtured Shirley Bird's leadership skills and provided her opportunities through her undergraduate, graduate and administrative years. It was said by those who knew her that Shirley loved the university so much that she would have worked for free," added Maline McCalla, a member of the University Unions Alumni Advisory Council.
After receiving her undergraduate degree from The University of Texas at Austin, Perry later earned a master's degree in educational psychology from the university. She was an active member of the Association of College Unions-International (ACUI), serving as its first female vice president and president.
In 1980, university President Peter Flawn asked Perry to return to the university from ACUI and placed her in charge of the university's 1983 Centennial. He later appointed her to be vice president of Development and University Relations. When university President Bill Cunningham became chancellor of The University of Texas System, he named Perry vice chancellor for Development and University Relations. In 2004, university President Larry Faulkner welcomed her back to campus as a senior vice president.
Perry also was the recipient of many honors including the Texas Exes Distinguished Alumnus Award and the Texas Parents' Association Award of Distinction. The Texas Union named a special student recognition award in her honor, the Shirley Bird Perry Leadership Award. President Powers bestowed Perry with the university's highest honor, the Presidential Citation. In 2011, Powers and the other University of Texas at Austin presidents for whom she had worked established the Shirley Bird Perry Endowment Fund for University History in her honor.