For decades, the most important person at Wake Forest’s commencement ceremony may have been Margaret Ruthven Perry. The meticulous registrar, who died on Sept. 6, was responsible for making sure that each graduate received the right sheepskin from the president as he or she walked across the stage.
Perry, who was 89, retired as registrar in 1998 after serving as a keeper of Wake Forest’s records for 50 years.
“She presided with efficiency and careful management over indispensable student records,” Provost Emeritus Edwin G. Wilson (’43) wrote in his book “The History of Wake Forest University, Volume V.” “Every spring at Commencement, we once more became indebted to her and to her staff for arranging diplomas with such precision that the graduation ceremonies could proceed without error.”
Perry joined the Registrar’s Office in 1947 as an assistant to Grady Patterson, the college’s first full-time registrar. When Patterson retired in 1972, she was the logical person to assume the position and became only the second woman administrator at Wake Forest, after Dean of Women Lois Johnson.
Hallie Arrington Hearn (’76), who worked in the Registrar’s Office from 1977 to 2002, said Perry was dedicated and generous to a fault. “Students, parents, trustees, faculty, staff and the public had a champion in Margaret Perry,” she said.
Perry was married to Percival Perry, a longtime professor of history and dean of the summer session. He died in 2005.
“It would be hard to think of another couple who held important positions at Wake Forest for such a long time,” Wilson said, “and who were known in different ways for their particular strengths. She, like Percival, loved and served Wake Forest on the old campus and on the new campus.”
As registrar, Perry was responsible for overseeing class registration, maintaining students’ academic records, issuing grades and transcripts, and certifying students for graduation. She had one of the first computers on the Reynolda Campus and led the computerization of class registration.
“She was a woman ahead of her time,” Arrington said. “She was proud to be one of the first women administrators at Wake Forest, and was always pushing for innovations in methods and technology.” Perry was well respected in her field and received the Distinguished Service Award from the Southern Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers in 1981. She later became president of the association.
In addition to her husband, she was preceded in death by one son, Alexander (’80). She is survived by one son, William Percival Perry and his wife, three brothers, and eight nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that gifts be made to the Williams Adult Day Center, Senior Services of Winston-Salem, 231 Melrose Street, Winston-Salem, NC 27103.