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History professor and PBK Teaching Award winner Thomas Perry dies


By Office of News & Public Affairs |

Published: Feb. 25, 2013

Thomas Perry, whose team-taught core history course earned him a coveted award at Boston College, died on Feb. 8 at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He was 87.

Dr. Perry joined the History Department faculty in 1964, and taught and researched in the areas of English history, early modern Europe, and the intellectual and cultural history of modern Europe. His publications included Public Opinion, Propaganda and Politics in Eighteenth-Century England: A Study of the Jew Bill of 1753, and numerous reviews in academic journals.

He was best known in the University community for the popular core course in European history he taught with colleague John Heineman — which became popularly known as “the Perry-Heineman course.” The two had been appointed to a committee charged with recommending core courses; at the time, the two-year sequence in European history had been reduced to one, and Perry and Heineman made a proposal for a course that covered Europe from 1500 to the present — as opposed to what Heineman called a “Plato to NATO” timeline.

“From the beginning, Tom and I just clicked,” said Heineman last week. “We shared ideas and developed a wonderful working relationship. We felt it was very important for full-time faculty to teach in the core. Tom, in fact, said this was the single-most important core course, and we spent more time on it than anything else we taught.”

In 1997, Dr. Perry and Heineman were chosen for the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award, given by students in the Boston College chapter of the academic honor society to faculty members who have achieved distinction as teachers and advisors.

Interviewed by the Chronicle on being selected for the honor, Dr. Perry said the award affirmed the central importance of teaching in the University: “For many years, BC’s sole academic mission was the teaching of undergraduates. Today, BC has become a major university, with a number of missions and purposes. It is important to have reminders, such as this yearly award, that teaching the fine young men and women who make up our undergraduate body, though no longer our sole mission, must remain our central and primary one.”

A former student of Dr. Perry, Michael Duffy ’96, said, “Tom was a wonderful teacher, who prepared his lectures integrating music, poetry, and art, making history come alive.  His love of the subject matter was infectious, so much so that I left his class with a love of British history — no small feat for a first-generation Irish American!”

Dr. Perry was active in other aspects of the University’s academic life, serving on faculty panels that examined BC’s core requirements and student issues. He formally retired in 1998 as an associate professor.

A native of Elmira, NY, Dr. Perry graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1950 from Harvard University, where he obtained his doctorate in 1957.

He is survived by his wife Mary, his children Sarah Correia, Taft Perry, Charles W. Perry, Julia T. Perry and Thomas W. Perry, five grandchildren, and his brother William P. Perry.

A celebration of Dr. Perry’s life will be held on May 18 from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Harvard Faculty Club in Cambridge.