Murvin Perry moved to Johnson City in 1980 after he received an offer to teach at ETSU. (Ron Campbell/Johnson City Press)
Murvin Perry, known affectionately by his friends, colleagues and former students as “Murv,” has a lot of tales to tell, and focusing primarily, and briefly, on just one facet of the man’s life is, in itself, a journey. When all is said and done, his jousting in the field of journalism stands out.
At 92, the noted Johnson City resident, who guided East Tennessee State University’s melding of its journalism and broadcasting departments together under one mass communications umbrella, is still sharp as a tack. He also has formed some hard and fast opinions about the state of journalism.
“After Woodward and Bernstein (The Watergate Papers), every half-ass journalist has been trying to do the same,” he said from his home. “They are practicing ‘gotcha’ journalism. I’m really concerned for the societal need for journalism today.
“Unfortunately, the demand for people today are those that are willing to lie in order to promote a political position. And with the new technology, we need to develop a new institution to provide public service journalism. I had faculty members at ETSU that really emphasized the things I’m talking about.”
Perry grew up on a farm in South Dakota. He was kicked out of his first English class at South Dakota State, but that streak would be reversed in a big way. A professor recommended he take a journalism class, and he was off and running. His very first job was filling in for an Associated Press writer who was not available to cover a fire.
“I eventually was hired to teach English at a high school, and managed to stay two lessons ahead of the students,” he said. “In the meantime, I supervised the school newspaper. I got an offer to teach at South Dakota State and helped develop a syndicated radio program.”
Realizing he needed to obtain a higher academic degree, he obtained a doctorate in mass communications at the University of Iowa. The Veterans Administration in Iowa City hired him as an information specialist, and he later served as the assistant director of journalism at the university.
He worked as a journalist at a newspaper at Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and this is where he first sunk his teeth deep into the profession.
“When I got there, there were problems with the city’s water supply,” he said. “I went to the reference library, which was across the street from the newspaper. I plowed through the biology texts and identified what was providing the odor and taste. I got the technicians at the water plant to count the algae, and I sent samples for testing.”
Perry received plans from an anonymous source that were used to build a new treatment plant in nearby Waterloo, Iowa, and found the engineers named on the plans were not engineers at all. They were frauds.
“I was called into the publisher’s office, and they wanted to see for sure if I would and could stand by my story if it was published,” Perry said. “Soon after the story ran, the state health commissioner announced Waterloo would be constructing a multi-million dollar treatment plant.”
In 1963, Ohio’s Kent State University was looking for an experienced talent for its journalism department, and Perry hired on as associate dean. He would serve 16 years there — including the tumultuous period in which National Guardsmen shot and killed a student protesting the war in Vietnam.
“I was interviewing a prospective faculty member when the shooting occurred,” he said. “I saw the disorder on the commons area, and we were trying to tell the students to go home — that there was nothing else they could do. I found it necessary to dismiss 300 students in one quarter alone for lack of performance. They were going to college so they would not be drafted.”
While at Kent State, Perry also uncovered two plagiarized dissertations. One contained material lifted from Harvard University; another included a dissertation of which one-third was “stolen” copy.
He got a call from ETSU around 1980.
“I circulated my name, and I got a call from ETSU’s vice president,” he said. “He said, ‘Dr. Perry, would you consider gracing our school?’ ”
The university’s Mass Communications Department was accredited for the first time in 1988, and it was Perry who pushed to make that happen.
Again, Perry simply has too much noteworthy life experiences to document in a single article. He served with the Seabees in the Navy, and was inspired as a youngster after reading Dale Carnegie’s “How to win Friends and Influence People.”
He also worked as a welder and was married to his first wife Lucille, who also lived in South Dakota. Unfortunately, she passed away after suffering from an illness. He has been married to wife Rita for 62 years.
Murv is secretary of the Early Ford V8 Club of America, East Tennessee Regional Group.
“The club has been another identity for me once I retired from ETSU,” he said.
He also penned “Murv’s Motoring Memories,” and still enjoys restoring old cars, including a 1966 Mustang Fastback and a 1935 Ford Cabriolet.
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