The Helen A. Papaioanou '49 Distinguished Alumni Service Award

Ralph T. Perry ’51

Inaugurated in 1981, this award celebrates service to Bates that is truly distinguished in both quantity and quality. Historically known as the Distinguished Alumni Service Award, the 1999 award was renamed the Helen A. Papaioanou Distinguished Alumni Service Award, to honor Dr. Helen Papaioanou ’49, for her decades of service to Bates and to the Board of Trustees from 1965 to 1999. We are honored that Dr. Papaioanou is able to be here tonight for the presentation of this award.

This year we are pleased to present this award to Ralph T. Perry, Class of 1951.

A graduate of Attleboro (Mass.) High School, Ralph Perry entered Bates in 1947. He was a Dean’s List student majoring in history and serving as class treasurer and Student Council member. Ralph earned nine varsity letters in football, basketball, and baseball and was elected to the College Key as an undergraduate.

It was at Bates that Ralph met Joan Holmes. She was born in Westbrook, Maine, graduated from Deering High School, and entered Bates where she was prominent in women’s athletics, served as a class officer, and participated in student government. She worked on the Mirror and the Bates Student and graduated with a degree in sociology in 1951. She and Ralph married that same year.

During his U. S. Army Service as a special agent with the counter intelligence corps in Austria they lived in Vienna, returning to the Portland area in 1954. They then moved to Manchester, New Hampshire, where they raised their two children, Leslie and Michael. In 1967 Perry, together with Hannaford Brothers, purchased Progressive Distributors Inc., which grew under his leadership from a $1 million business with 10 employees to a business with $75 million in sales and 200 employees by the time the couple retired to Brunswick, Maine in 1987.

In 1992, the Ralph and Joan gave a gift to Bates to establish the Joan Holmes and Ralph T. Perry Scholarship Fund, which provides financial aid for students from Maine. “I was born and raised in Maine, and I have always wanted to see young people from Maine succeed,” Joan said at the time of the gift. Joan died in August of 1994.

As a Bates alumnus, Ralph has served as a class agent, member of the Alumni Council, Alumni Fund Committee leader, and Alumni Club officer. He has played a role in many Bates campaigns, as a member of the Corporations Committee for the first and second capital campaigns, and as a member of the campaign committee for the recent Campaign for Bates: Endowing Our Values.

Ralph’s second wife and partner in philanthropy, Mary Louise Seldenfleur, graduated from Wellesley College and holds a masters of education degree from the University of Southern Maine. She was a school librarian in Buckfield, Hartford and Sumner, Maine for two decades before she retired.

Ralph and Mary Louise are passionate about Bates and higher education. It was Ralph and Mary Louise who first proposed the concept of the Mount David Summit to Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty Jill Reich. Approaching its seventh very successful year, the Mount David Summit is an annual celebration of student research, service-learning, and creative work that spotlights the rich and varied academic activities of Bates students across the disciplines, and honors the vibrant intellectual life of the College.

Ralph’s and Mary Louise’s lifetime gifts to Bates make them the College’s largest living donors. Among their many contributions are the Helen A. Papaioanou ’49 Chair in Biological Sciences, major support for the Harward Center for Community Partnerships, and naming this wonderful space in which we celebrate tonight  the Joan Holmes Perry ’51 Atrium  in honor of Ralph’s late first wife.

When it comes to Bates philanthropy, Ralph’s philosophy is straightforward: “If you’ve already provided for the joy and comfort of your family, why not provide joy for others?…I want Bates people to understand that we have something that deserves to be preserved. Our philanthropy is a Bates record, but we know that records are made to be broken. In our lifetime, Mary Louise and I hope what we have done for Bates will be exceeded many times.”

Ralph, you have come a long way in the years since you left Bates, and you have served your College with loyalty and dedication, helping to provide joy for others through your financial support and, more importantly, through being an unwavering and enthusiastic champion of Bates and its values. We are also grateful that your love of Bates is shared so ardently by Mary Louise, who, while not a graduate of Bates, is certainly a full and welcome member of the Bates community. This College is in your debt, and we are honored to make this award.

For your decades of profound and passionate service to Bates and your tireless efforts to help others understand that Bates is a very special place that needs strong support to preserve its future, it is my honor to present you with the Helen A. Papaioanou Distinguished Alumni Service Award.