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Using the gift of time to promote economic literacy and civility

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Life section of the Annapolis Capital, Sunday January 13, 2013

Unabridged from my Bonus Years column in the Lifestyle section of The Sunday Capital, Annapolis, Maryland

Richard Bach, the American author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and other best-sellers, once said, “A great life is the sum total of the worthwhile things you’ve been doing one by one.”  Everyone entering his or her bonus years should tack this quote on the refrigerator, the bathroom mirror or the cover page of your daily journal or devotional.

This quote kept bubbling up in my mind as I thought about the career of Annapolitan Perry Weed, who is a master at doing “worthwhile things.”  Perry, now well into his bonus years, continues to use his gifts for leading, writing, organizing and inspiring to strengthen the social infrastructure of the Annapolis area.

Perry was born in 1935 in Philadelphia.  After attending Hamilton College in upstate New York, where he earned a degree in economics, he received his law degree from the University of Chicago.  After that he was a political analyst and TV producer for WTTW, a major Chicago broadcaster, where he earned two Chicago Emmy nominations.

Perry then moved to Washington, D.C. where he was a special assistant for legislative affairs to US Senator Adlai E. Stevenson III.  After a stint with elected leaders, Perry  spent the next 20 years in the private sector as a senior official with the Travel Industry Association of America – followed by a move to the Eastern Shore to practice law and serve as a special assistant to US Congressman Wayne Gilchrist, representing Maryland’s 1st District, which also includes Anne Arundel County.

A stellar career, one might say.  Why not hang up your spurs and go fishing…or sailing…or golfing.  But Perry wanted to write a new ending – or at least a another chapter to an already accomplished life.

Having spent many years dealing with public issues in the Annapolis area, Perry sensed the need for a neutral forum where interested and motivated citizens could come together to be informed about and discuss economic issues that will shape the future of the city, the state, the region and the nation.

Moved by JFK’s challenge that “One person can make a difference and everyone should try,” Perry decided to devote at least a few of his bonus years to establishing what he called the Economic Club of Annapolis.  The Club – an initiative that began and remains a family affair that includes both Perry and his librarian wife of 42 years, Dorothy Fisher Weed – “is a non-political, non-profit citizens’ forum for the discussion of important economic issues facing our nation.”

The first meeting was held in October, 2011.  Thirteen people showed up.  But the numbers kept growing.  Perry said, “The Club has been successful beyond my expectations with audiences averaging more than 60 at each of the 19 meetings in 2012.”  In fact, the Club had a record attendance of 98 at its November 8, 2012 meeting, and they have a mailing list that numbers 377 going into 2013.

The Club meets twice monthly in the Annapolis Public Library on West Street.  Attendance is free.  Speakers are nationally recognized experts and leaders on economic matters – including liberal influentials such as Jeff Faux, founder of the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute, who discussed his new book The Servant Economy:  Where America’s Elite is Sending the Middle Class and conservative influentials such as Grover Norquist, president and founder of Americans for Tax Reform and originator of the well-known “tax pledge” who talked about the need to rein in taxes and spending.

Other speakers have included Ross Perot’s vice presidential running mate, Pat Choate, who discussed trade and the economy; David Smick, who talked about the impact of globalization; and The Atlantic’s Don Peck, who addressed the middle class squeeze in the context of his new book Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures & What We Can Do About It.

The next meeting, on January 22, 2013 will feature banker Richard Morgan, former CEO of the CommerceFirst Bancorp and former member of the board of the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank, who will talk about the risks and prospects of the Fed’s “easy money” policies. For details contact Perry at plweed@verizon.net.

One participant reported that “Members are serious, thoughtful and diverse, representing a rich variety of career and life experiences.”  Another said, “The Club is a place where people engage enthusiastically in intelligent exchange and civil dialogue about important issues facing our nation.”

When I asked Perry what he takes from his bonus years experiment, he talked like the economist that he is:  “On the demand side it has been enormously gratifying to discover that my hunch about the intellectual appetite of Annapolitans to understand today’s critical economic issues was correct.  On the supply side, I have been surprised by the high quality of the speakers we have been able to attract.  Most have to travel to Annapolis.  They receive no speaking fees.  They inform us; they provide an occasion for all those present to learn; and they stimulate us to exchange views on the important issues of the day.”

Club members continue to demonstrate their loyalty and engagement through meeting attendance and lively exchanges with the speakers and with each other.  The Club has no dues.  It has received no grants.  It is a perfect example how one man and his wife can use their bonus years to strengthen a community and make a difference – in this case by promoting economic literacy and expanding and uplifting the quality and civility of public dialogue around important and often divisive issues.  We need more Weeds.

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