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Mayor Winfield interview

Dave Perry mag photo.jpg



by Kevin Boerup



I first met Mr. Dave Perry about a year ago. I was investigating the business climate in Oro Valley and the Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce seemed like the place to start. He and Shari Colson graciously welcomed me into Dave’s office and we talked for almost an hour. 

Dave and I hit it off right from the start. His newspaper background and my printing background just meshed really well. I guess you could say we both have ink in our blood. And we both graduated High School the same year.

Early Years

Mr. Dave Perry was born and raised in a suburb of Hartford, Connecticut. “My parents had me young and my brother was only 11 months younger than me. My father was an immigrant from Madeira, Portugal, a small island about 500 miles north of Morocco. They brought me here when I was 4 and when WWII began, my father wanted to bring his parents to the US. So on December 1, 1941, a boat left Madeira with my father and his parents aboard. The ship had to travel way south, many miles out of their way, because the Atlantic Ocean was filled with German U Boats. They travelled south and then west to the coast of Cuba and then north up the eastern seaboard to Ellis Island and arrived December 24, 1941.”

Dave loved sports as a kid. “But I was small and not very coordinated. I loved sports, I just wasn’t good at playing sports. But I was good at writing about sports and during my Junior and Senior year in high school I covered all the High School football and basketball sports teams in our small town newspaper. It was also during this time that Watergate was going on. I fell in love with political stories and articles covered by the Washington Post and the New York Times and decided that that is what I wanted to do. To be a journalist. I wanted to make a difference in the world.”

After leaving home at age 17, Dave studied journalism in college. 1800 miles away In Wyoming. That decision changed the entire trajectory of his life. “I chose the college in Wyoming for several reasons: 1) they had a good journalism program, 2) they were relatively inexpensive, and 3) I wanted to learn to ski powder.”

Dave began his newspaper career as a sports reporter in a small town called Riverton at the Riverton Ranger, a small daily newspaper.  “When they hired me, as one member of a large staff, I was the highest paid reporter. At $180 per week. I had sports beats and news beats and I still love to write about sports, but I gravitated to writing about news. I thought that I could make a difference. I soon became the political reporter and began covering politics. One of the first people I met who was running for State Congress in Wyoming, was Mr. Dick Cheney. (He had hair back then.)”

Dave got to know so many people, from Mayors to Governors to Congressman to Senators. It was just real exciting for a young reporter to be able to interview important people. (Or people who wanted to be important). It was during this time that Dave learned to watch government. “Government is not a simple activity. I brought that skill to my position at the Chamber and have been able to bring that to bear on behalf of local businesses.”

Because Dave was smart and a hard worker, he was soon promoted to News Editor and then Managing Editor and held that position for 12 years. “We all chipped in, writing, taking photos, doing the paste-up and putting a paper out every day, 5 days a week.”

Back then, these small community newspapers were the lifeblood of their communities. “One newspaper owner and publisher once told me, ‘We may not be the biggest business in town and we may not be the richest business in town, but we are the most important business in town.’”

Dave comments, “You have to remember that the newspaper, back then, was THE way to get news. There were very few local radio stations and the network TV news (if you had reception) was mostly national or international stories. There was no internet, no USA Today. If you wanted to know what was going on in your town, the newspaper was it.”

Famous quote by Dave: “A person should get their name in the paper at least 3 times in their lifetime. When you’re born, when you get married and when you die. At least in small towns.”

Dave continued working in the newspaper business in small town Wyoming for almost 30 years.

How did you get from Wyoming to Arizona?

The kids were grown, he had been divorced for a while and was still living and working in Wyoming when he had met a woman through business contacts, who was living in Scottsdale. They began a long distance relationship which lasted for 7 years until Dave resigned from the newspaper in 2007 and moved to Scottsdale. With no job prospects. He notes, “I knew the newspaper game was at a crossroads. I could see it. So I asked myself, ‘What  do I want to do?’” 

After being in Scottsdale (Lisa and Dave married in 2009) and not doing much that really interested him, he started looking for newspaper jobs again. The Explorer newspaper in Tucson was looking for a new editor. He applied and was hired. So they moved to Tucson in early December of 2007, just as the great recession began. “I had to layoff 10 people in the next quarter. It was awful!” Then three years later, Dave himself got laid off too. (No, he didn’t have to fire himself…) 

“We wanted to stay in Oro Valley because we really enjoyed it here.” Dave did some freelance writing for a while (which doesn’t pay much) and then noticed that the Oro Valley Chamber was looking for a new president. Dave had previously served on a Chamber board in Wyoming and then as President pro-tem, so it seemed like a good fit. And even better: it was a paid position!  

As it turned out he was offered the job and began March 29 of 2011. A couple days later the accountant brought him the monthly financial statement. When he got home and took a look, he said to his wife, “I believe I have made a terrible mistake.” He thought that the Chamber financial condition was a disaster.

After a few weeks on the job, Dave went to see a friend at the bank. He asked Dave how it was going at the Chamber. Dave relates, “Jerry, I can’t believe the financial mess we are in!  (We had $20,000 of debt)”

“He gave me some great advice. He said, ‘You need to get 30 of your best Chamber members and ask them for a one time donation of $1,000. That will help you dig out of this hole and will solve your financial problems. But you’ll have to promise them to never ask them for money again.”

“So, as I started meeting with Chamber members, a very good man, who shall remain nameless, just came out and asked what I really needed. I told him I needed $5,000. He wrote the Chamber a check for $10,000!  I was shocked!  I went back to the office and gathered the staff around and told them that the game had just changed. I then met with all of our creditors, paid them all half and made a deal to pay the rest off within a year.”

And he did just that! After that first year, things slowly improved at the Chamber. “Today we have over $150,000 in reserves. We also have a foundation that has funds to help our community. We rebuilt our relationship with government and all in all it’s been a terrific experience here. We are a much better company. We have great, talented staff and are able to do a lot of good here in Oro Valley.”

With the improved financial condition the Chamber is currently experiencing, they have plans for the future. Plans like modernizing the office, investing in software and hardware that help the office work better, even a better digital presence. All that takes money. And they have committed to doing that. 

“I’m excited about the Chamber’s future. We have some fantastic opportunities ahead of us and a lot of that has to do with the community. We have a great community. A terrific climate, fantastic mountains, world-class bioscience companies, high tech companies, a university, a great senior component with winter visitors. That only spells good things for Oro Valley in the future. Oro Valley has all the best assets and we are well positioned to survive the down times. In fact, I think Oro Valley is the envy of 95% of other towns in the US.” 

“Our community needs strong businesses. Strong businesses need a strong community. They work together to generate economic success that then creates the sales taxes that government survives on.”

Why join the Oro Valley Chamber Commerce?

“We can connect you to other people. We can connect you to opportunities. We can connect you to ways to make more money. We can connect you to ways to save money. We can represent your business in front of government. We can help you give back to the community. And you can be a part of something that is bigger than yourself. Our favorite Chamber members are those that ask us for help. It’s then that we can prove up. What do you need? Here you go. We can save you time and we do that all the time. Call us and we can help you get better business traction.”

What does life look like after the Chamber?

“Retirement?  I don’t know what’s in store for me there or when. I’ll always be doing something. My parents are still alive. They live back in Connecticut. Of their three children, I’m about the only one that can do anything to help them. Maybe spend more time with my children. Do things with them."

“I’ll probably stay on volunteering at the Chamber Foundation. Maybe some seasonal part-time work. I love children and may volunteer at a school, especially helping them to read. Maybe teaching immigrants English. My grandmother never learned to read or write English. I always thought her life could have been bigger had she learned English.”

For all that Dave Perry has already done and continues to do in his life and how well those accomplishments have benefited the communities in which he as lived, I know he will continue to be an asset to us in Oro Valley for a very long time.

Parting quote: “Don’t love your job. Love your family. Because your job will not love you back.”

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