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Thursday, August 29, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Robert Perry, 69, Ex-Legislator Who Rebuilt His Life After Prison

There was a lot more to Robert Perry than the notoriety he brought on himself as a veteran state lawmaker who fled to Costa Rica for 18 months, then served a year in federal prison for extortion.

"I asked him several years ago if he was excited about an election coming up," explained his daughter Roberta Perry. "He replied, `No, because I can't vote because I would have to ask for a pardon. I won't ask for a pardon because I did something wrong."

Mr. Perry, 69, a Democrat and former representative for parts of North Seattle, died Sunday of complications from a stroke he suffered Aug. 17 while driving near his West Seattle home.

"I think he knew he was going," said his daughter. "He told my son that he didn't think he had much time left. But for about a week before the stroke, he was trying to make up for a lot of things he had not done.

"Dad and his wife and my son, who is named Robert A. Perry Jr., tried to do an awful lot of things, squeezing as much as they could into a week, going to garage sales and shopping for antiques, that kind of thing," she said.

"We talked almost every night and he told me one night, `I'm happier today than I have ever been in my life.'

"I truly believe he knew. Dad said he didn't want to be hooked up to machines and that heart transplants should be for younger people," his daughter said.

Mr. Perry suffered from heart disease and had triple-bypass surgery several years ago. Always large and muscular, he threw himself into a regimen of physical conditioning and exercise.

"He turned his house into a gym and he burned out one treadmill," said his daughter. "And he said, `No one should feel sorry for me because I have had a very full life.' "

Mr. Perry was a star quarterback on the football team at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles and a Golden Gloves boxer, his daughter said. He loved classical music, she said, and he studied violin in New York with Yehudi Menuhin. Robert Jr., 11, now plays the same violin.

"Dad was a sophisticated man and we never thought we would see anything like this, but he dressed up as Santa Claus for the retarded kids at the school in Buckley," his daughter said.

A native of New York City, Mr. Perry grew up there and in Los Angeles and graduated from the Merchant Marine Engineering School in Alameda.

He served in the state House of Representatives from 1958 to 1977, representing Seattle's 32nd District and earning a reputation for being tough and volatile.

"There were a lot of people who didn't like him" because of those traits, his daughter said.

In earlier years, Perry formed a close involvement in the labor movement, walking a 180-day picket line during a movie-studio strike.

In 1978, he was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of extortion and tax fraud over receiving $130,000 from two engineering firms bidding for work on the West Seattle Bridge project. Perry was chairman of the House Transportation Committee that dealt with the project in the early 1970s.

Later, Perry also admitted receiving $1,500 a month for six years in the 1960s from Washington Water Power, a Spokane utility. He then testified as a star witness against utility officials in a federal court trial.

In 1979, Mr. Perry surrendered to federal marshals and pleaded guilty. "He didn't even want a defense attorney," his daughter said. Mr. Perry had been sought on a federal arrest warrant when he disappeared. He later admitted he had hidden in Costa Rica.

Mr. Perry returned to maritime work in 1981 after his release from prison, to work two years as an assistant engineer on a state ferry.

Mr. Perry is also survived by his wife, Lucy. His funeral will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Evergreen Washelli Funeral Home.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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