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Richard Perkins, 61, remembered as strong advocate for community

By Mark Wineka
mwineka@salisburypost.com
Richard Perkins always seemed to be the man in Salisbury working behind the scenes.
“He didn’t like the limelight,” said Heidi Whitesell, a board member for Rowan Business Alliance. “He just wanted to make sure the community prospered ó he just wanted it to happen.”
Perkins, executive vice president of Rowan Business Alliance, died Wednesday evening at his home from an apparent heart attack. He had left work early Wednesday afternoon saying he did not feel well.
“We are in total shock,” said Jimmy Greene, who worked with Perkins almost daily as a Business Alliance board member.
“It’s just a tragedy. The community has lost one of the most caring individuals you can imagine.”
Perkins was 61.
The duty fell on Whitesell Thursday morning to inform the staff at the Business Alliance office at 1910 W. Jake Alexander Blvd.
Perkins left his longtime job with Belk in 1997 to head what was then the Salisbury-Rowan Merchants Association, which dates back to 1925. At the time, he also was mayor of Granite Quarry.
Perkins led the organization’s transition into the Rowan Business Alliance and headed a multi-faceted operation, which includes billing and collection companies.
“All the blueprints were in his head,” Greene said. “The staff is shocked. They’re just all in tears.”
The Rowan Business Alliance annually produces the Holiday Caravan parade in Salisbury and Spencer with the help of the Jaycees, and Perkins became the name and face associated with the parade.
Truth be known, Greene said, Perkins probably saved the parade from vanishing.
“He stepped in to make sure the parade went down the street,” Greene said. “… He loved that thing.”
Through the alliance, Perkins also became associated with many scholarship awards, spelling bees and promotional and educational services for small business.
Besides his work duties, Perkins was heavily involved with Smart Start Rowan, for which he was past board chairman, and was on the state board with the Partnership for Children.
John Gerstenmier, head of Smart Start Rowan, said Thursday the organization had lost “one of its strongest advocates and supporters.”
Through much of his life, Perkins involved himself with educational issues, from local PTAs to bond campaigns, to teaching at and serving on the Rowan-Cabarrus Community College board.
Perkins also had served in leadership roles with the United Way, Salisbury Civitan Club and Nazareth Community Church.
Before heading the Business Alliance, Perkins had worked with the Belk organization for 27 years and was once president, board member and committee chairman for the Downtown Salisbury Action Association, which became Downtown Salisbury Inc.
He and his wife, Marie, also maintained a booth at the Salisbury Emporium, where they sold antique furniture, glassware and gifts.
On the political side, Perkins served as mayor or alderman in Granite Quarry from 1991-97 before he and his wife moved back to Salisbury. Before that, in 1985, Perkins had run unsuccessfully for Salisbury City Council.
Whitesell said Perkins was genuine and always had the community and small business at heart.
“He cared,” she said. “He was a very caring, loving individual and wanted his community to prosper.”
For Rowan Business Alliance, she said, “he was the one who held it together for us.”
Greene said his friend was a workaholic who tried to keep everyone informed.
Perkins grew up in Burlington and was a 1970 business graduate of Catawba College.
Perkins is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter.

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