Hubert Perry gets a little assist from son Mark in blowing out the candles on Hubert’s 100th birthday cake on Saturday, June 15, 2013, at PIH Health, formerly Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital. The centenarian was instrumental in founding the area’s largest hospital back in the 1950s.
‘Mr. Whittier’ hits century mark
Nixon schoolmate, Poet proponent and PIH cheerleader feted for longevity, business acumen
By Tim Traeger
Banker, visionary and community icon Hubert Carver Perry can now scribe another moniker on his extensive resume. He’s a newly minted centenarian.
For those unfamiliar with the term, it means 100. A Ben Franklin. A C-note. A milestone not many of us will ever see. Yet it’s what is tucked within those 100 years that makes many in-the-know call Perry “Mr. Whittier.”
Hubert didn’t create Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital, now simply PIH Health and the largest and most influential employer in Whittier. But his father, Herman, did. Morphing what was once a sadly underserving Murphy Hospital into a state-of-the-art medical facility, Mr. Whittier parlayed his business acumen gleaned from Whittier College and Stanford into a unique strategy of replacement depreciation that padded the hospital’s bottom line and provided the capital necessary to not only grow the 50-acre facility, but save it from insolvency in the early 1970s.
Perry celebrated his special birthday proper on June 11 but was feted by hundreds of his PIH family on Saturday, June 15, 2013, appropriately in the Hubert C. Perry Health Pavilion dedicated in his honor in 1994. However Mr. Whittier is no one-trick pony. Perry went to Whittier High and Whittier College on a first-name basis with classmate Richard Milhous Nixon, this nation’s 37th president. He has served on more boards than a tap dancer, namely representing Whittier College and the Richard Nixon Library Foundation. He served on the PIH Board of Directors for more than 40 years and as its chair from 1976 to 1984. At the ripe age of 100, Perry still serves on the PIH Health Foundation and PIH Health Physicians Board and most recently helped the hospital consolidate and integrate each of its many entities into a single master brand.
“Of course people know that Hubert is closely associated with PIH, Richard Nixon and his library as well as Whittier College. But what people don’t know is that Hubert, as a vice president of Bank of America, was instrumental in financing much of the development of East Whittier and Friendly Hills” said Whittier Councilman Joe Vinatieri.
“My dad came (to Whittier) because my grandfather was a preacher at Friends Church. He came to Whittier in 1905 and I came because he came,” Perry deadpanned from his immaculate ranch-style home on Mar Vista Street.
“I was born at home. We didn’t have a hospital in those days.”
Perry began his professional career with Bank of America in downtown Los Angeles. He took four years off in the early 1950s to serve in the U.S. Navy based out of Coronado in San Diego. Upon his return and for the next 30 years, Mr. Whittier brokered aircraft loans to California companies like McDonnell Douglas. He finished his career in 1975, retiring as regional vice president overseeing Bank of America’s main L.A. branch as well as 83 other B of A locations.
“Hubert Perry has been a staunch supporter of PIH Health since before it opened its doors. He was part of the grass-roots effort, in 1955, to build a new hospital that could better serve the Whittier community,” said PIH Health President and CEO James R. West. “Mr. Perry is one of the most committed individuals to the success of this hospital and his community. He was responsible for pioneering a financial policy which funded historical and replacement depreciation of hospital equipment. PIH Health was the only hospital at the time to implement such a policy. The benefits of the funded depreciation policy have helped fund PIH Health’s ever-expanding healthcare services and continue to protect PIH Health’s financial future.”
Perry earned his bachelor’s degree in business at Whittier College and a master’s in business at Stanford in 1947. He met and married Louise Bacon in 1949 during an alumni dance. He proposed, and she accepted after their first date. They were together for 71 years before she died in 2010. The couple had four children, Lee, Mark, Brian and Ellen. Perry has seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
The lucid centenarian uses a cane to steady his balance and relies on care-giver Chanelle Johnson, of Fullerton, to drive him to functions around town. Perry doesn’t let the weight of time slow his pace. Mr. Whittier can often be seen at the Nixon library in Yorba Linda and at various important events around town.
Perry met his current sweetheart, Alli McClean, at First Friends Church, where his grandfather was a Quaker pastor upon arriving in Whittier.
“This was a Quaker community until very recently,” Perry said.
What made him get involved in the business of creating a hospital?
“Presbyterians knew how to run hospitals, so we gave them control of the board. We did not have an emergency department because the old Murphy Hospital, which was donated by Simon Murphy to the city of Whittier, didn’t have an emergency department. It had 10 acres so my dad and Dr. Raymond Thompson went out and walked the thing one afternoon and my dad came home that night and some neighbor called and chewed him out for having a hospital in a residential area. And he was right,” Perry said. “My dad had a massive stroke that night and died.
“So we entered the market and bought 14 acres of surplus state school property – farm property along Washington Boulevard, which was a blessing in disguise because we have expanded that to 50 acres, more or less. And we’d buy more if we could acquire it. You would never recognize the hospital today compared to the original one,” Perry said. “Either in service, complexity or attractiveness or any measure you could have for hospital management. It’s a different institution today than it was then.”
Asked how it felt to turn 100, Perry said with a gleam in his eye, “I would have saved my money if I would have known I was going to live so long. I feel pretty lucky.”
Perry has had his share of health concerns. He’s fought cancer of the colon, prostate cancer, has had five bypass surgeries and a nasty bout with pneumonia after returning from a trip to China. So what keeps him alive?
“I think feeling those responsibilities to the hospital has kept me alive. I have a feeling the hospital needs me,” Perry said. “And that probably is fixed in my own imagination. But it does drive me. I don’t know what else it is. It can’t be my family because they pretty much take care of themselves. It can’t be my wife because she’s not here. So it’s got to be the problems of the hospital and finding ways to make it work. But it’s gone far beyond me and my limited knowledge of the industry.”
Is he “Mr. Whittier”?
“I don’t know about that, but I was here before any of them came,” Perry said of current city residents.
One of those residents, Ruth B. Shannon, has another name for Hubert Perry.
“He’s my captain. He taught me to sail,” Shannon said. “He’s Capt. Perry to me. He’s a very good friend. I take him to the Nixon library all the time. We’ve been special friends for a long time. He’s an icon. Anyone who lives to 100 years old is an icon. He’s quite amazing, for sure.”
Perry weighed in on one of the most controversial issues in Whittier, the proposal to drill for oil on seven acres in the Whittier Hills.
“We used to have oil here. And it looks like we might have it again, but it’s questionable. It was a terrific idea. I was raised with oil wells drilling up in the hills, 600 of them. Whittier has been an oil town for many years, including Santa Fe Springs. It was occupied by oil men like (Ed) Shannon.
“The people who are opposing it are opposing it for the wrong reasons. They say it will ruin their property. But it will add millions of dollars to the budget and keep taxes from going sky-high. And the city could do many great things with the revenue,” Perry said. He added that the future of Whittier could hinge on the outcome of the oil debate.
“I’m very much in favor of the oil income. And the cities, counties, states and federal government and schools – they don’t have any depreciation. They have no system for replacing their assets.”
And don’t get Mr. Whittier started on the subject of “Obamacare.”
“You don’t know what the future holds. You don’t know what’s coming down the pike with the federal government and the medical field,” Perry said. “No one knows what it is. No one’s even read the darned thing. The country will be broke before we can comply with that darned thing. It’s just a disaster waiting to happen.”
Over his 100 years in Whittier, Perry said his biggest disappointment was when Yorba Linda was tapped to house the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Birthplace.
“It was a Republican town at one time. We should have had the Nixon library. When they turned us down on that, I left the board of Whittier College. Whittier lost it before Yorba Linda got it. It wasn’t even considered. It was the liberal faculty at Whittier College. When they turned their back on Dick Nixon, I got out,“ Perry said.
Any sage advice for younger generations?
“I think you can go into any business, and the opportunities are just terrific. I don’t think most people have the foggiest idea what you go through when running a nonprofit business or a college or a hospital. I think if you just put your head down and go ahead and fight it out, and try and do the best you can, make the best decisions you can, you’ll find a way to be successful,” Perry said.
“Because anyone who goes to work in anything with a degree of sincerity has a chance to come out looking pretty good. I think it’s just a question of doing the right thing, whether it’s a college or it’s a grocery store, no matter what it is, or any other business. If I were anybody and wanted to do the job right, the opportunity would be terrific even for the average guy. I don’t think I’m any kind of a genius, it’s just a question that if you do the job and do what you’re supposed to do, watch everything, you’ll be a winner. Whether it’s a hospital or a newspaper or anything else, there’s lots of opportunity. And the opportunity I think we still have in this country is by going back to the free-enterprise system and not playing games with politics
“I don’t understand Obama.”
Tim Traeger is a Whittier resident and former editor of the Whittier Daily News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 626-646-7352.