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A Passage to Love, Remembering Perlik

McLean resident William Perlik dies at 81.

Several weeks before he died, William Perlik made a request. He told his loved ones that it would please him to have some poetry read at his memorial service. That request was honored on June 10, when the Rev. Mary Katherine Morn opened Perlik's service with an excerpt from Walt Whitman's "Passage to India."

"Bill would have wanted you to know how much it would mean to him that you are all gathered here today," said Morn, who officiated Perlik's service.

On June 2, at the age of 81, William Perlik died of pulmonary fibrosis. Perlik, a resident of McLean, is survived by his wife of 57 years, Annabel Shanklin Perlik, son Ronald Perlik of Front Royal, daughter Lynn Perlik of Greenbelt, grandson Christopher Dingman, and his brother, Charles Perlik of Springfield.

On June 10, more than 200 friends, colleagues and relatives gathered at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax church in Oakton for Perlik's memorial services. Perlik was an accomplished lawyer whose dedication to his family and his community endeared him to many.

"One common theme ran throughout the comments I received when I asked church members how they remembered Bill," said Bruce Vernor, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax. "He was a great guy, a very good friend, he supported the church in every way, and he was always enthusiastic."

Perlik and his wife were founding members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax, and helped to organize the church when it first opened in 1955. Perlik also served on the church's board three times.

"He was heavily involved in the purchase of property at the Route 66 interchange, and was instrumental in the wonderful music programs provided every year by Oberlin College," said Vernor.

PERLIK ENTERED Oberlin College in Ohio in 1943, but left to serve in the Army in World War II. When the war was over, Perlik returned to Oberlin, earning his degree in 1948. While there, he also met his wife Annabel. Perlik then went on to graduate from Yale Law School in 1951.

"Bill used to say that Oberlin gave him his values, and that Yale gave him the means to carry them out," said Nancy Dye, president of Oberlin College.

Perlik was a member of the Oberlin Board of Trustees from 1978 to 2000, and he remained active as an Honorary Trustee thereafter. Perlik also served as Chairman of the College Board of Trustees from 1993 to 2000.

Dye first met Perlik in 1993 when she was a candidate in the Oberlin College President search. Once she was named president, she and Perlik worked together regularly.

"Every Tuesday, from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., we had a phone conversation," said Dye. "It was our way of making sure there would be good and regular communication between the chair and the president."

Dye said that during those conversations, topics would run the gamut from college budget issues, to the Israeli Palestinian conflict in the Middle East.

"He was a man of brilliant and powerful intellect, who could write and speak more cogently than any other man I've ever known," said Dye. "Bill was far more than a really smart person –– he was also the wisest person I have ever known, with an inexhaustible well of human kindness."

Dye said that only "persistent mean-spiritedness or dishonesty" could ignite Perlik's impatience and ire.

"It was Bill who could always be counted on to find ways to get people to work together," said Dye. "His talent for bringing people together for the collective good was unmatched."

Perlik also created and taught a course in practical law at Oberlin. It met every Saturday morning, and Dye said that its consistent 80-person enrollment was a testament to Perlik's popularity with the students.

"I will always see my friendship with him as one of the most generous and rewarding relationships of my life," said Dye.

IN 1962, Perlik helped to found the law firm of William, Cutler & Pickering, where he was a partner until he retired in 1991.

William Perlstein, managing partner at Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr, spoke at Perlik's memorial service and remembered him as "one of our first, and maybe one of our best, big case leaders."

"He didn't need leadership training or consultants to tell him how to be a good leader," said Perlstein. "Bill was always one of the partners that you looked at and said 'yes, I want to be like him when I grow up.'"

Perlik was an avid supporter of education, and a firm believer in making education opportunities available to people of all backgrounds. In the 1950's and 1960's, Perlik worked to advance public school integration in Virginia. As a member of the board at the Langley School in McLean, Perlik fought vigorously to allow the first African American applicant to be accepted at the school.

"He did this in the face of strong opposition," said Vernor.

From 1964 to 1971, Perlik served on the Fairfax County School Board, including one term as chairman. In 1972, he served as president of the Virginia School Boards Association.

Perlik was also a past president of the Fairfax County Citizens Association, as well as past president of the Northern Virginia Mental Health Association. In addition, he served on the board of the Northern Virginia Educational Television Association.

Morn only met Perlik a little more than a year ago.

"Most of the time I spent with him has been in the hospital," said Morn. "Every visit, Bill always asked me about my family."

Morn said that family was of the utmost importance to Perlik.

"Bill's joy in his family gave him the strength to face his life, even in difficult times," said Morn.

Several years ago Perlik underwent bypass surgery, and family members told Morn that they noticed a change in his behavior after his recovery.

"That is when he started writing poetry," said Morn. "I think he gained a deeper level of appreciation, sensitivity and thoughtfulness."

Morn spent a great deal of time with Perlik during the final days of his life.

"He spoke about love, and he wondered aloud if he had enough love," said Morn. "That is how Bill made his transition –– thinking about love."