Ab Perry: A Man Behind the Scenes
“When you let someone else help you do your work, do the hardest thing yourself and delegate the rest. Back the man you give it to. Then don’t worry.” – Fuller E. Callaway, 1920
Mr. Callaway followed that rule exactly when he hired John Albert Perry, who worked for the Callaway family off and on for over 40 years. John Albert Perry was born on October 12, 1877, in LaGrange. His education began at the home school of Miss Maud Erdman and continued at Park High School in LaGrange where he completed the equivalent of a junior college education. On January 16, 1901, he married Bessie Crouch and in November they welcomed their only child, a daughter also named Bessie.
Perry began his career working for Fuller Callaway Sr. at Callaway Department Store, located on the downtown square. By 1912, Perry had become Fuller’s personal secretary and secretary of Unity Cotton Mills. While in this position, he was considered to be the “right hand of Fuller Callaway,” and anything he said on behalf of his boss was equivalent to words directly from Fuller. From 1914 to 1916, Albert was instrumental in assisting Fuller with overseeing the construction of “Hills and Dales,” a new family home for the Callaways. He was “on the grounds” as often as Fuller and saw to it that Mr. Callaway’s wishes were carried out. He also took care of much of the correspondence, requested catalogs, ordered building materials, and negotiated with suppliers connected with the project. Surviving letters reveal that Albert almost always signed his name as John A. or J. A. Perry, but he was best known by his nickname “Ab.”
The twenties were very good times for Ab as evidenced by the great role he played when the Callaway enterprises celebrated their twentieth anniversary in Manchester, Georgia, in 1929. Fuller Callaway was instrumental in founding the town as an industrial and commercial center in neighboring Meriwether County. There were speeches, parades, ball games, fireworks, and dinners in honor of this special anniversary. Because Fuller had died the year before, two men who worked closely with Fuller were asked to be keynote speakers for the celebration. The two speakers were Hatton Lovejoy, the Callaway’s personal and business attorney, and Ab Perry.
Throughout his life, Ab often held more than one job while assisting the Callaways. In the twenties he was the proprietor of his own company, J. A. Perry Real Estate, Insurance & Bonds. He also did advertising work for Adams Building Supply Company. The twenties culminated as a golden era in his career. Perry was a member of Masonic Union Lodge #28, First United Methodist Church, Highland Country Club, Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, and the Georgia State Automobile Association which promoted paving and construction of new highways in the state. Business was also going very well for him as he would joke that he was, “a slave to interest, taxes, and life insurance.” Sadly, this would come true in 1929, when his business suffered as a result of the stock market crash. For financial reasons he withdrew all his memberships except from his church.
The Callaway sons, Cason and Fuller Jr., employed their father’s former associate and secured for him a position with the LaGrange Relief Assn. He was also secretary of the Ida Cason Callaway Foundation which was responsible for construction of the Broad Street Apartments, so no doubt he worked with the architects, Ivey and Crook. They provided Ab and his wife a home at 114 Ferrell Drive, as well. Ab had claimed in the 1920’s that his “hobby” was farming. By 1939, Ab was General Manager of Callaway Farms, an agricultural enterprise that was started by Fuller Jr. The farm, by then called “Hills & Dales,” soon became a noted player in the cattle industry with Fuller Jr.’s 1946 purchase of Real Silver Domino 44th, the most preeminent silver Hereford bull in the country. After 1946, Ab left the Callaways and returned to his insurance career. In 1950, Fuller Jr. re-employed Ab to assist him with organizing family papers. After this project Ab retired in 1952.
Ab lived at 114 Ferrell Drive from 1938 to 1963, when he moved to Westport, Connecticut, to live with his daughter. He had been living alone in the Ferrell Drive house since 1954 when his wife passed away. Ab died of pneumonia in 1965 and was buried at Hillview Cemetery in LaGrange. His pallbearers included prominent figures of LaGrange such as Charles Hudson Sr., Fuller E. Callaway Jr., Charley Traylor, Bill Jarrell, Woodrow Smith, and Curtis Glass, who gave testimony to his continued esteem.
Ab had many diverse positions throughout his life. He put all the effort of what he called his “5 foot 7 inch” frame into every task he was assigned. He was certainly an important confidant and assistant for Fuller E. Callaway Sr. and Cason and Fuller Jr. recognized and rewarded Ab for this loyalty. They respected Ab Perry as one of the men “behind the scenes” in the development of their father’s business enterprises and the successful completion of their family home “Hills and Dales.”