Memorial services for Shirley Bird Perry, 74, have been scheduled for Monday, May 9, 2 p.m. in the Lyndon B. Johnson Library Auditorium.
Perry, a senior vice president at The University of Texas at Austin who began her career with the university in 1958, died in her home Wednesday following a long illness.
She was a member of the Vice Presidents’ Council and the University Leadership Council at the university, and had been a senior vice president since April 2004.
Previously, Perry had been vice chancellor for development and external relations with the University of Texas System since 1992. In that position she directed fundraising operations, public affairs activities, management of estates and trusts, event planning and other activities.
Before joining the staff of the University of Texas System, Perry had been vice president for development and university relations at The University of Texas at Austin under Presidents Peter T. Flawn and William H. Cunningham. Earlier, Flawn had appointed her as assistant to the president and coordinator of the university centennial observance, which culminated in 1983. Perry was promoted to vice president and coordinator of centennial programs in 1981.
Perry was director of the Texas Union from 1972 to 1976. She began at the Texas Union as program director in 1958.
Her service at The University of Texas at Austin was interrupted only twice since then. She was a teacher in California in 1959-60 and was with the Association of College Unions-International from 1976 to 1979.
To make a memorial gift to the Shirley Bird Perry Endowment Fund for University History, or to leave a message, visit In Memory of Shirley Bird Perry.
Obituary for Shirley Bird Perry
Shirley Bird Perry, who played a leadership role in the administration of The University of Texas at Austin for nearly five decades, died on May 4, 2011. She was 74 and had battled cancer for several years.
Born near Stockdale, Texas in 1936 to Homer and Laura Stevenson Bird, Shirley Ann Bird was known by friends and colleagues throughout her life as “Shirley Bird.”
When Shirley Bird arrived at UT in 1954, her first class had 240 students. Comparing this number to her high school graduating class of 21 gave her an eternal soft spot for students who came to UT from small towns. Shirley Bird was an active member of student organizations, including the Texas Union Board of Directors, Orange Jackets and Mortar Board. She was named the university’s “Most Outstanding Woman Student” by the Dads’ Association (now the Parents’ Association) during her senior year.
Shirley Bird earned her degree in education in 1958 and joined the Texas Union staff as program director. The following year she ventured to California to teach junior high and was joined by several other UT graduates who became her life-long friends. After a very long year of teaching seventh graders, she returned to the Texas Union as program director. She began dating Sam Perry and in 1963 they were married, notwithstanding her disdain for his conduct at UT sporting events.
Shirley Bird continued her work at the Texas Union for nearly a decade, and under her direction the Union played a major role in the lives of the students who participated in its programs. Many of those students became her lifetime friends. Among many other activities, she coordinated appearances by distinguished speakers such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy and Marianne Moore. In 1967 she earned a master’s degree in educational psychology from UT. She was an active member of the Association of College Unions-International (ACUI), and served as its first woman vice president and president. In 1972 Shirley Bird was named director of Texas Union.
She left UT to work for the ACUI for three years, but in 1980 President Peter Flawn placed her in charge of the university’s 1983 centennial, which included managing the activities of the Centennial Commission, a series of commemorative events, and a capital campaign. These efforts resulted in an enormous growth in faculty endowments, lectureships and scholarships, which provided an infusion of faculty and student talent, giving a major boost to UT’s academic standing and UT’s transition to a national research university.
Shortly after assuming that responsibility, President Flawn appointed Shirley Bird vice president of development and university relations, a position she enjoyed under both Presidents Flawn and Cunningham, participating in many of the decisions that guided UT during that time. In 1992 then President Bill Cunningham insisted she accompany him to the University of Texas System when he became chancellor. As vice chancellor for development and university relations for the System she directed fundraising operations, public affairs activities, management of estates and trusts, event planning and special services, and other activities. However, Shirley Bird couldn’t be kept away from the Forty Acres for long. After her retirement from UT System in 2004, UT President Larry Faulkner welcomed her back to campus as a senior vice president.
In addition to membership on numerous university-related committees, she has served on the Public Affairs Committee of the Association of American Universities; the Executive Committee of the University Relations division of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges (NASULGC); and on a special Task Force on State Relations coordinated by NASULGC and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. She also received the Marvin D. “Swede” Johnson Service Award in State Government Relations.
A life member of the Texas Exes, she received the organization’s Top Hand Award in 1984. The Parents’ Association presented its Award of Distinction to her in 1992. The Texas Union named a special student recognition award in her honor, the Shirley Bird Perry Leadership Award. In 2003, she was named a Woman of Power by the Austin Business Journal. And in 2005, she received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Texas Exes. In 2011, President Bill Powers awarded Shirley Bird with the university’s highest honor, the Presidential Citation, and he and the other UT presidents for whom she had worked established the “Shirley Bird Perry Endowment Fund for University History” in her honor.
Shirley Bird was also instrumental in preserving much of the history of The University of Texas at Austin through the UT Oral History Project to record the memories and achievements of the institution’s leaders, most all of whom she worked with in the last half century. Her colleagues recognized the depth of her knowledge of the institution and her dedication to UT.
Shirley Bird also served on the boards of directors of City National Bank of Austin, Southwest Public Service Company, the advisory board of JP Morgan Chase Bank of Austin, and other corporate boards during her long career.
Friends also remember Shirley Bird for her boundless energy, her grace under fire and her irreverent sense of humor. She was famous for her “expressions” and one assistant even prepared a glossary. Some examples are “There I was with my hair on fire and my horse in a ditch”; “I’m suffering from a loss of personality”; and “I am between a sweat and a faint.”
Shirley Bird’s work ethic did not recognize weekends, and her colleagues admired her prodigious energy and capacity for getting things done. She once said she wanted her epitaph to be, “She has gone to a meeting.”
She was predeceased by her parents, her brother, Edwin Homer Bird, and her brother-in-law, Richard Davis. She is survived by her husband, Sam R. Perry; her sisters, Mary Jane Jonsson and husband Errol, Virginia Bird Davis and Patsy Bird Weber; her nephew, Charles Cotter and great nephews Jake and Trevor Cotter; her cousin, Betty Bird; her sisters in law, Polly Perry-Vincent and her sons, Blair and Scott Franklin and their families, and Jenny Kay Kubiak and husband, L. B. Kubiak and their children, Lindsay and Logan.
The family wishes to thank Betty McMurray, Shelly Baker of Hospice Austin, the caregivers from Angel Healthcare, Sharon McGraw, Bebe Moody Boone, Lucy Collins Nazro, Maline McCalla, and Mary Ellen Oliver for their tireless efforts during the last stages of her illness. Special thanks also to Nancy Brazill, Janie Wisecup, and Jim Moore for their help and friendship these last several years; Dr. Daniel Karp and the staff at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, and Rev. Morgan Allen and Rev. Kelly Koonce of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd.
There will be a memorial service at the LBJ Library Auditorium on Monday, May 9 at 2 p.m., with a reception to follow. Interment will be at a later date in the State Cemetery.
Rather than flowers, the family requests that donations be made to The Shirley Bird Perry Endowment Fund for University History c/o The University Development Office, P. O. Box 7458, Austin, Texas 78713-7458.