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A Williams Life

A Williams Life:
Will Parish and Perk Perkins

Host: Gordon Earle ('75)

Producer: Jon Earle ('09)

Web production: Kathy Bogan ('75)

With additional support from Joe Bonn and Martha Coakley (co-presidents of the Class of '75), and Mark Robertson ('02) and Ryan Ford ('09) from the Williams Alumni Office.

In this episode of A Williams Life, we explore the theme of friendship through the eyes of two classmates who have shared an intense bond for more than 50 years.  


Will Parish and Perk Perkins knew, almost from the start of their friendship, that they wanted to embark on a wildly ambitious adventure following graduation. And they did exactly that. In the fall of 1975, Will and Perk started on the first leg of an extraordinary journey that took them around the world. It lasted 20 months, during which the pair crossed five oceans and seas, explored 35 countries, and covered enough miles to circumnavigate the globe twice. They also produced over 2,000 pages of journal entries, which became the basis for their book, Around the World in a Jeep.


This episode begins with Will and Perk recounting highlights of the trip—from the variety of people they met, the diverse places they visited, and moments when their health and safety were seriously threatened. We then move on to their lives today: Will describes his involvement in causes that blend education and environmental literacy for students throughout California, and Perk discusses his experience running Orvis, a family-owned and -operated business specializing in fly fishing, hunting and sporting goods, previously run by his father.  Additionally, Will and Perk discuss the strong influence their fathers, both Williams alums, played in their lives. 

Their friendship remains the central theme of the episode, including how they use annual retreats to further explore their close relationship, as well as their places in the world. Hearing their story may encourage many of us to reflect on the enduring ties that we have with our classmates, which have survived, even flourished, for more than 50 years.

Click on one of the links below to listen to the podcast, or read the transcript below the photos.

At the bottom of the photo gallery, you can also view a film that Will and Perk made of the round-the-world journey.

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WP Transcript

Watch a video about the trip

Transcript of the podcast

[00:00:00] VO: This is Gordon Earle and I want to welcome everyone to another episode of “A Williams Life.” For the first time, I have two guests on the program: Will Parish and Perk Perkins, and we'll focus on a powerful theme, which is friendship. I believe it's fair to say that many in our class place a high value on the close and enduring ties that we have with our fellow classmates, which have survived, even flourished for more than 50 years.

In the case of Will and Perk, they became roommates junior year and have done many extraordinary things to maintain their intense bond over the past five decades. We'll explore a number of these endeavors, but start with an amazing trip they embarked on following graduation, that took them around the world for almost two years.

We'll then move on to their lives today, with Will deeply involved in causes to blend education and improving literacy about the environment to students throughout California. and Perk’s experience running Orvis, a family-owned business specializing in fly fishing, hunting, and sporting goods previously run by his father.

[00:01:05] Gordon: Will and Perk, thanks for joining us. To begin, I want both of you to take us through your journey after graduation. And it was an amazing journey. It lasted 20 months, you crossed five oceans and seas, and you explored 35 countries, but it all began at Williams. So tell us how you met, and your first impressions of each other.

[00:01:28] WILL: Well, I remember, freshman year, walking over to the Bronfman Science Center and there was a guy walking over in bare feet and it had just snowed. And I thought, well, there's an unusual guy, loves the out of doors like I do, probably more than I do, judging from his footwear. And so we sought each other out right after that,  freshman days, whatever it was.

[00:01:54] Gordon: And Perk, your impression.

[00:01:57] PERK: I remember Will was just a real go-for-it guy. Kind of “can do.” Let's go for it, let's go. And I had that impression just from bumping into him a few times. Then I heard he was a pilot and I said, that's cool. We kind of jumped into a roommate situation our junior year because Josh Raymond had left for a semester,  abroad or something. And your roommate had ditched you I think. I think that's right.

[00:02:25] Gordon: So how and when did the idea for this grand trip originate? 


[00:02:30] WILL: Well, we sort of had an epiphany and an aha moment in a conversation that we were having while we were decorating our room. Thinking, you know, well, what do we want to do after college? And we both wanted to travel around the world,  in some way. Perk had been thinking about it in more detail than me. I had just started thinking about it. I was a pilot. I thought it would be really cool to involve that in some way of getting around the world, like my great uncle did in 1937. He was the first to fly a float plane around the world. And we just got to talking and it unfolded from there.

[00:03:09] PERK: Well, I can give Williams credit for my side of it because I did a, January study, an Outward bound program in Colorado, winter mountaineering. And one of the guys that I met on that trip really impressed me in a lot of ways. One way was he had just finished a trip where he had hitchhiked around the world. It had taken him like a year and a half. That inspired me. So I came back from Winter Study with that notion in my head.

[00:03:43] Gordon: So you're starting to plan this thing, and I'm just wondering what your hopes and your expectations were starting out. What was going through your mind?

[00:03:52] WILL: The biggest possible amazing trip that National Geographic would not only sponsor, but would publish a cover story on. I got excited about doing the trip with Perk in a Queen Air, and started researching on the cost of a Queen Air and putting a budget together that we presented to National Geographic. And we got all the way down to Washington and met with Gil Grosvenor, and he said, nah, sorry, a little over our budget for two people who don't have any journalistic experience at all. So then we thought, there are other sources. So we pitched Jeep and we pitched Pepsi. We said, hey, we'd paint this Jeep in the shape of a Pepsi can and drive it all around. And then there was the Watson Fellowship, our last try.

[00:04:45] PERK: Yeah. I'd applied for the Watson Fellowship. Almost got it. And that was our budget, so our budget shrank dramatically after that, sort of our last try. And then we turned to our piggy banks.

[00:04:59] Gordon: What did your families think of you embarking around the world in a Jeep?

[00:05:04] PERK: I was very surprised that my parents were so supportive. So I ran with it. Once I got the green light from them, I never asked again.

[00:05:14] WILL: Both my parents were the same way. They were very enthusiastic about what we would learn on the trip and just having the initiative to put it all together. And do it.

[00:05:26] Gordon: So let's talk about the trip right now. It was an amazing trip and here we are, 50 years later, and I'm wondering what memories do you have today that are most prominent, that most influence your lives? We can't cover everything 'cause there are literally hundreds of memories, but what ones would you like to talk about today?

[00:05:47] PERK: I don't have a single memory that stands out, but I have lots of them that string together. The image I have is our pulling into a little village or town and pulling over and stopping and talking to someone on the dirt road. You know, maybe they had a dog or were walking their kid, and just getting into a conversation, and that conversation leading to, oh, come over for dinner tonight. Or,  I'm heading out of town,  to my father's house. Would you like to come with us? I think he'd like to meet you. All those memories were really just engaging with people on a very basic human level and having it turning into a relationship. In some cases that lasted a day and some cases that has lasted 50 years.

[00:06:50] WILL: I would echo that same sentiment also. There was another whole side of it, which was the trip required a lot of preparation. We put two  years into planning it, collecting names from our parents and whatnot all around the world. And we made a plan. The challenge became, do we stick to the plan or do we be spontaneous? We wanna plan, we want to complete the plan of traveling around the world, but not at the expense of what we might encounter in the trip itself. Having opportunities to delve into the moment,  and be spontaneous. The other thing I learned was the importance of having a plan B. If one plan wasn't working out,  to have an alternative in mind or create one on the run.Those have been good life lessons for me.

[00:07:43] Gordon: So give us an example of a plan B.

WILL: So we were driving and we thought we might be able to drive across the Darien Straits,  from Central America to South America. Got to Panama, and that certainly wasn't the case. So we thought, well, let's get on a cargo ship. We went to all of the cargo ship companies,  shipping companies in Panama and in Colón that we could find. And they were all way over our budget.  So we were sort of twiddling our thumbs and a guy came up and started talking about this and he said, well, I've just jumped on a converted logging ship that's gonna take our cars across to Buenaventura, Colombia. We said, oh my gosh, can we get on that?

I don't know, he said, so we drove down to the port where that bucket of bolts and steel plates stood and begged our way onto it. The cargo nnet picked up the Jeep, put it on the boat. And we paid less than one third cost. But we didn't have enough food, so we had to run over to the local—believe it or not, there was a Dairy Queen.

We bought three days worth of milkshakes and hamburger for the passage, 'cause we would just be camping out next to the Jeep. There wasn't any accommodation for us. We had 17 nationalities on that ship and made the voyage and got over to Colombia.

[00:09:17] Gordon: There are too many stories to tell, but there were many highs. And there were many lows. Tell us separately, a high moment and a low moment.

[00:09:29] WILL: I have one sort of unrelated to the travails of traveling

Before we left on the trip, we set a winch up on the front of the Jeep, just in case. Sure enough,  driving down a thousand miles of dirt roads in Guatemala, a huge truck came over the brink of a hill on our side of the road, completely unable to get over to his side of the road.

So we had to shift and drive off the road. Well, there was a steep cliff on that side of the road,  and the Jeep caught the wheel on the side and was headed down the steep angle with obviously Perk and me in the car, but stopped by leaning up against a tree. We were leaning so far over, I couldn't get out that side because I was the passenger.

So we got out the other side and then gingerly pulled out the winch and tied it to a tree, or I guess it was a telephone pole further up, and winched the Jeep out of danger. That was such a feeling of, oh my God, this whole trip could have ended there. That was an incredibly happy moment, pulling us out of danger.

[00:10:46] Gordon: And if that tree hadn't been there, you were over the cliff.

[00:10:49] WILL: Yep. Yeah. It wasn't like a cliff, you know, a thousand feet down. 

[00:10:54] PERK: Jeep would've rolled though.

[00:10:55] WILL: Yeah, we would've rolled over. Definitely. It was very steep and there were little  saplings of trees. So it would've been the end of the trip, and who knows how we would've been injured.


[00:11:07] Gordon: Perk, you have a moment? High or low, whatever you choose to recollect.

[00:11:13] PERK: Well, we hit the low real quickly. It was about 16 months into the trip. We had these mail drops we'd get about every month and a half or so. We'd pull into a city and we'd arrange for someone to collect our mail. I opened a letter from my dad and it in fairly terse text said, if you still want that job at Orvis, be here in July. That was kind of a bummer. That was a buzz kill. 


I'll roll right into one of my high points, which was Willie and I had split up for a month or so, 'cause I wanted to go into Argentina. Because it's so famous for its great trout fishing. Will can tell you why he didn't want to go to Argentina at the time. So I headed off hitchhiking and buses and stuff and I ended up down in the glacier area, Moreno Glacier of Argentina. I don't even remember how it happened, but I remember walking into a farm yard and meeting a young woman and talking. And the next thing I know she'd offered me her horse. I'm out on the horse and I set off riding across the pampas, you know, looking at these beautiful glaciers, and came back at the end of the day. It was almost dark. Gave this young woman her horse back and it was just such a cool day, you know, why she trusted me with her horse or even felt like sharing it with me was amazing.

I literally walked into her yard, got on a horse, came back, and gave her the horse back and was on my way. In my mind, I can just always remember the colors of the grasses, on the pampas and the glacial lakes and the glaciers calving into them. It was an incredible, incredible day.

[00:13:20] Gordon: Did you get a taste of anti-American feeling on your trip as a result of the color of your Jeep, and it was obvious that you were Americans? Did you encounter some resistance or any hostility?

[00:13:34] WILL: That was kind of the amazing thing, Gordon. We encountered virtually no hostility. In fact, I became a strong patriotic soul of the United States because everybody wanted to go to the United States, and live the Horatio Algers dream. The closest we came to some sort of resistance might have been Iran when the Shah was still in power, clearly aligned with the United States. But there was a lot of sentiment that ultimately led to his overthrow  just a couple of years later. But it didn't affect us personally.

[00:14:21] Gordon: Now that you're talking about Iran, and I'm thinking about countries like Afghanistan, where there's been so much war and devastation in recent years, and the U.S. has played a role in that. And I'm wondering when you focus on those kinds of countries now, what your impressions were at the time. And then you reflect on everything that's happened since,

[00:14:42] PERK: We went through Afghanistan fairly quickly at the time. It was not a really safe country, and I think we were also in a hurry to get to the far side of the country in time for the holiday breaks, the Christmas holiday. There was the one country where I kind of felt like I was prey. We weren't taking our time, we weren't making the connections and I really felt that people saw that we were obviously of means because of the Jeep, and [I] felt very defensive the whole time. I remember one time I was negotiating with a street merchant for something I was gonna give Will for Christmas. And I decided I'd stand my ground on my price and, damn, the guy didn't pull a knife on me. Will didn't get that present.

[00:15:39] WILL: But that's okay.

[00:15:40] Gordon: Let me talk about invincibility.  Many young men and women think of themselves as invincible. And I know at the beginning of the trip, Will, you almost drowned in Wyoming. And I know, Perk, you were seriously ill several times, typhoid fever. And I'm wondering if these experiences led you to question your own mortality, or led to a certain loss of innocence or those kinds of things, or did you experience those moments and say, “I'm gonna live forever.”

[00:16:15] PERK: You sent these questions to us ahead of time, and I had to think about that one quite a bit. I mustered all the humbleness I could, and in all honesty, I came back more invincible at the end of the trip than I'd left.

[00:16:39] WILL: I also had that reaction at age 23. All those incidents made me feel more immortal, not just …

[00:16:46] PERK: …immortal.

[00:16:47] WILL:  When I almost drowned on the Snake River and I was grasping onto the snag in the river, and the Snake River steely teeth were hissing around me, trying to pull me under, my buddy was safe on the shore, yelling, “You can do it, Will.” I had no idea that I, in fact, was in any danger and until I started to try to pull myself out. And then the adrenaline hit and I got out of the river. Okay. I was grateful for that and excited and thought, well, yeah, I'm bringing on some more challenges. Then Pert got sick. I had to turn the Jeep into an ambulance, and we drove through the streets of Quito at 60 miles an hour. And that was really great fun as well.  


So the loss of innocence though, Yes.  Looking back, walking through the favelas of Sao Paulo,  seeing actual dead bodies on the side of sidewalks, and Mumbai, then Bombay,  just woke me up to how rough life is for so many people around the world, especially compared to our lives.

[00:18:00] Gordon: Let’s talk about something you've also mentioned earlier, and I was putting it in the theme of social media, which is today, and it is the theme of humanity. But today we get so much communication that sometimes we think of the world, and at least I know I do, is a sort of a cruel, unforgiving place with a lot of bad actors. But I don't think that was your impression of the world then or now. So I wanted you to give us your impression of humanity as you experienced it on your trip, and maybe your feelings about it today.

[00:18:42] PERK: We were blessed with many wonderful friendships and relationships the whole way. We engaged with people, and it could be anything from talking about sports, the weather,  food, but when we engaged with people, and avoided sort of that transactional, you know, hey, we're looking for Taj Mahal, which way is the Taj Mahal, or something like that? When we engaged, I don't know that I can ever remember a bad experience, as long as we took the time to kind of connect with people on a really basic human level. On the other hand, if we were transactional about it, “hey, you know, we're in a hurry, you know, where's the gas station?” something like that, that was more likely when we encountered sort of the dark side of humanity.  There were some of those too. But I must say, for me, it's been work the rest of my life to remain or to try to avoid the transactional relationships and to engage on a basic human level with people before I get into the transactions. But it's certainly the lesson I took away from the trip. 

[00:19:57] WILL: Can I tell a little story about that? Because mine was the same way. We got to Ankara, Turkey, and went to the embassy and were warned about getting off the main roads. Perk and I looked at each other and said, but that's the whole point of this trip. So we got off onto a tertiary road, and stopped off in a camping area and noticed all these buses with holes in their windows. We asked one of the bus drivers, what are the holes in the windows? And they said, oh, you don't want to go through any of those villages, because the kids will throw rocks through your windows. He said, it doesn't matter how fast you go, you can't go fast enough. So Perk and I pondered that and thought, well, maybe the deal is to go slow. So we went off. Perk, did all this great research around the world and always found odd wonderful things to visit. There was some series of Easter Island-size heads way up on the top of a mountain in this backcountry of Turkey called Nemrut. We set out to find it. We had to not only get on tertiary roads, but dirt roads.Whenever we saw a village coming up, we slowed way down and, sure enough, kids popped up their heads over the rocks where they'd been hiding, with rocks in their hand. And I held out my hand. We always carried around with us little gifts.

The Jeep had no top and the doors were off. I leaned, holding onto the roll bar, leaning out, yelling, “Merhaba, merhaba,” which is hello in Turkish. And the kids were so astonished they dropped their rocks and they came running around and we tossed the little candies out to them,  knowing that we would have to come back down this road on our way back. And we wanted to make all the friends we could.

[00:21:52] Gordon: it's interesting 'cause even that one word made a difference 'cause if you had raced through or if you hadn't said anything but that one word,  it indicated some level of friendship I would think.

[00:22:07] WILL: It happened all over. We didn't make our route, and we didn't get to our goal that night, and we knew we shouldn't be camping out at night because of the Kurdish. I don't wanna blame the Kurdish, but there was a lot of unrest, you know, in the countryside. As it was getting dark, as luck would have it, we saw a military outpost, so we pulled in. Everybody in the military outpost was very curious about what this muddy red Jeep was up to.

[00:22:37] PERK: Well, at first they wanted it just to go away. Remember? They were sending us away. Yeah. Get outta here.

[00:22:42] WILL: Yeah. Somehow we ingratiated ourselves to at least get in. And then we had the idea, let's pull out the Frisbee. Perk and pulled out the Frisbee, started playing catch with each other, and everybody dropped what they were doing, saying, what is that? And one guy took the Frisbee and tried to throw it like a baseball. We taught people how to throw the Frisbee. And lucky for us, the captain of the gendarme was the best at it.

We gave him the means of reestablishing his status as the captain of the place. And we were invited to come in. We had dinner with him and his quarters. They put us up in the hospital. We had some, well, not that comfortable beds, but beds in the hospital. And then we took off the next day and finished the trip and got up to these huge statues and Perk took wonderful pictures. As we were coming back down, we stopped in and thanked the gendarme, and we came back down through the little villages and waved to everybody and they waved to us. It was a wonderful feeling  of friendship that we had experienced.

[00:23:51] Gordon: A single word and a Frisbee makes all the difference in the world. I mean,  that's amazing. I wondered about the  major lessons that you learned from the trip, and you've alluded to some of them so far, but if you had to encapsulate, “this is what I learned,” what would you both say?

[00:24:11] WILL: Well, I would have three words for it, which are, “dream, plan,do.” That's what we learned, both in creating the trip, and then every day on the trip. Having an idea and putting a plan on how to implement it, and then executing,

Approaching life, relationships, situations with a “yes” attitude, rather than the “yes but” attitude,   has been something that I've lived with; spending time and deepening friendships. My friendship with Perk on that trip was a grounding experience. We had this grounding effect on each other to bring us back to our truths of what, what is the trip about?

The other, final thing is the trust in people never failed us. We left the Jeep with strangers and came back and it was fine. The Jeep itself had no locks on the doors. It was a canvas-covered  vehicle. And we were free from theft. All the hospitality that we received around the world was genuinely given to us, not in hopes for an exchange, just out of friendship. And that was amazing to experience.

[00:25:37] Gordon: Perk.

[00:25:39] PERK: The sort of the can-do look at life. I mean I had it at Williams. We had it obviously to pursue this idea of this trip, but I'd say that was definitely cemented in me afterwards. Changed my life there. I can't think of many challenges that I ever shrank from afterwards. So there was a confidence not so much in my ability to succeed as much as my ability to tackle something.

One example, Gordon: you know, I grew up in Ohio and Vermont and had very little experience other than being with friends on the water. But the little bit of time I'd had on the water gave me a view that I just loved waking up on the ocean, going to sleep, watching the sun go down on the ocean. And so at age 50, I said, I'm wanna spend a year at sea. So I did that in the middle of my career too, which was kind of challenging with my board of directors and things.

But  again, it was, it was sort of like, you can do this, put your mind to dream, plan, do. And so that was a good example.

[00:27:01] WILL:  I was watching him from afar. It took years for him to develop the skills to be able to take on a catamaran and sail it all around the islands in the Caribbean.

right. I did

[00:27:11] PERK: Right, I did it with my dog, too.

[00:27:13] WILL: It was amazing.

[00:27:14] Gordon: Did you get a note from your dad saying, if you're not back by July 1st,  you don't have a job?

[00:27:22] PERK: Actually,  my boat sank, so he didn't have to send me that note.

[00:27:30] Gordon: Let's, let's segue to something that's again, related to all this and, and I found personally amazing, which is the annual retreats that you do, and you've been doing them for decades. It made me reflect on my own friendships, that I don't do something like this, and maybe wish that I had. So I'll just tee it up to say that you, for decades, have been getting together for these annual retreats where you look at ways to explore and even further develop your already deep friendship, right? So tell us what takes place during the retreats and what you get out of them.

[00:28:07] WILL: You know, shortly after the trip and the ten years that Perk and I casually, individually talked with other people about the trip, we both came away realizing, wow, this is a bigger deal than we really thought it was. Some of the stories started slipping away, and Perk and I spoke about some of the things that we learned, and we realized, oh my God, we don't want this trip to slip away.

So in 1986, we had our first meeting, where the reflections on the trip were the main reason for getting together for a three-day retreat. From that time forward, we developed this idea of let's be this grounding influence for each other. Let's check in with each other on how we're doing on all of these different goals of ourselves.

Perk never set a goal for me, nor I for him. But it was, you know, how are you doing as a father, how are you doing in your career? How are you doing as a community member? What are you doing for your spiritual life? What about self care? What books are you reading that are influencing your thinking?

What concerns do you have on the political scene? Right? Whatever sorts of things. And as we went through the years, we would always bring the journals along , and read each other stories that we had written in our journals, because we each wrote over a thousand pages of  journal entries.

At about I dunno, 20 or 25 or 30 of those, we decided to write the book and memorialize our thinking.

[00:29:52] Gordon: So you continue, obviously to learn from the trip, continue to this day. I mean, it took place 50 years ago, and you're still reminiscing, reading your journal entries and taking lessons from the [experience.]

[00:30:05] WILL: mm-Hmm.

[00:30:06] PERK: Over the years, the journal reading has sort of ebbed. That's not as much a feature of our annual retreats as our really sort of checking in with our lives and, you know, asking some hard questions. Like a few years ago, both of our dads were coming toward the ends of their lives and we weren't spending as much time reading our journals as we were  saying, what's your relationship with your father mean to you?

What is it you wanna be sure you've said to him, before he passes away? What do you wanna do with him? What do you wanna talk about?  


So the over the the years, have we done 36 of these now?

[00:30:48] WILL:  Yeah.

[00:30:49] PERK: Yeah. But over time, the content has shifted, from the first one, which was almost, was almost entirely journal reading to lately. It's a lot more about reflective on where you are in your life and what you wanna make sure you've done or,  and who you've connected with.

[00:31:08] WILL: Well, it's important to note too that we agree on what the agenda is for the big topics to talk about, and then we take notes. We have elaborate notes going back 36 years that we can look back at and evaluate sort of where we are today with where we thought we would be looking forward. Because a central feature of these retreats are the one-year plan, the five-year projection and the 10-year outlook. So we can go back and see what we were thinking way back then.

[00:31:41] Gordon: So do you hit your marks when you look at what you said you wanted to do in five or 10 years, and then when you look back, did you mostly hit those marks?

[00:31:51] PERK: Oh, I think we bat about 50% probably. 

[00:31:57] Gordon: you know, 500 is a good batting average.

[00:31:58] PERK: It is pretty good.

[00:31:59] Gordon: It'll get you into the Hall of Fame.

[00:32:03] PERK: We do follow up with each other. Actually we have some mid-year calls too,  on things that might be a little more urgent. You know, we can't wait till next year to find out if it got done.

[00:32:15] WILL: Then there was an idea that came about which was we don't have enough spontaneous interaction with me living in California and Perk living in Vermont back then.

So we conceived of this idea of “joy moments” where if we were having a, a a moment of exhilaration and, if I do and Perk happened to flash into my mind, I would send him a text with a photo and saying, “I'm having a joy moment” and like one sentence what it was. That's really been fun to do, cause we could get quick little bursts of sight into each other's lives that way.

[00:32:52] PERK: Yeah. These annual retreats really followed from the trip. I would put more  value on those than I would the actual trip. They followed on the trip, but they've been so rich and we've covered, you know, a lot of things that you might otherwise kind of pass over.

[00:33:12] WILL: Well, I want to credit Perk with one thing, realizing that it wouldn't have been enough, I don't think, just to get together for the sole purpose of doing a deep dive. I mean, that's pretty intense. So we always built,and to this day, continue to build these retreats around a project, and it was saltwater fly fishing for many, many years in the beginning. So we would have, you know, something we would do and then we would reflect and talk and think, and then something we would do and come back to it. So there were airing times in between that really helped processing and helped the fun of it.

[00:33:46] Gordon: You've talked about your fathers, and I want to go there for a second.  Starting at the beginning, and they both went to Williams. My father went to Williams as well. And I wondered if even at a young age, you thought consciously or unconsciously you were following in their footsteps.

[00:34:07] PERK: I did not, and in fact it was kind of the last thing I wanted to do was to follow in my father's footsteps. I wanted to carve my own path out of things. But I did end up going to the same college that he did, but the similarity ended there.

His college experience was vastly different than ours. I really never thought much about his college experience the whole time I was at Williams. 

[00:34:41] WILL: My dad was an athlete at Williams, and I was an athlete. And I had that connection with him. And he was a trustee during the whole time I was a student.

I thought about him in terms of being one of the trustees of the college. But what he did with his life was so vastly different than anything I could imagine, from World War II to working for the same corporation for 35 years. So I was inspired by his model of how to live a life full of integrity; that's what I really took away.

[00:35:32] Gordon: I wanna talk a little bit more about your, what I call larger-than-life father. But Will I have something for you? Because it brings us together in this respect. My father went to Williams. He left after his freshman year to become a B 17 pilot in Europe.

[00:35:47] PERK: Hmm.

[00:35:47] Gordon: He flew 50 missions, and I am to this day, in awe of that, especially just watching masters of the air, you know, and the casualty rate of 75% of, you know, who flew B seventeens. I've been to Foiana, Italy where he flew his missions. I've read his letters to my mother. The point is, your father was a decorated World War II veteran, and I'm wondering if he experience that I have when I resonate to my father, do you resonate to your father in the same way given his war experience?

[00:36:22] WILL: I so wanted to be like my dad. And everything I did in my life, I wanted him to approve of. I couldn't think of living a life that had more purpose and meaning and integrity than my father. Yeah, he was was my hero, well into my fifties, an ongoing thing. When the Vietnam War came around and I thought, oh my God, do I have to go try to become a decorated military man also?  We had a conversation and he did not want me to go to that war.  He and probably like your father, graduated from Williams and enlisted in ’41, and survived Guadalcanal , survived Pelu, and that's where he got his Bronze Star. I felt like I could never live up to this.

[00:37:21] Gordon: Yeah, we probably share that to some degree in common. Perk,I don't know whether your father served in the war or whether you have a similar experience as it relates to your father  in war.

[00:37:36] PERK: No, I don't. He did not serve in war.  As you know, I did end up following him into the family business.

My concept in my senior year at Williams was I was going to become a lawyer, become a crack commercial real estate lawyer, and then turn that into conservation law, land protection. I'm tremendously inspired by the likes of Tom Jorling in that. My father was a very active conservationist throughout his business career, and he admired my desire to become an environmental lawyer. Thought it was a good path, but he did say, I often feel that I can do more as a sponsor and supporter of conservation causes through our business than I could be if I was the actual practitioner in the trenches. I observed him over a couple years and I admired how much he and the company was able to do to provide in some cases the funds for something to get done, and then another case to give it visibility through our communications.

That was a huge influence.That really is what helped me make my decision to enter the family business, rather than pursue environmental law. And the other thing I was, I was a really, really, really, really slow reader. Once I realized how much lawyers had to read, I knew I could never hack it.


[00:39:21] Gordon: So Will, what little I know about your family background, it's a little bit of the inverse. You just talked about your father being a hero and how much you loved and respected and admired him, but then you didn't go work for the same company where you had that opportunity. You took a different path. Explain that to me.

[00:39:42] WILL: I think it really started with my father and my mother saying during my summer times, let's have you have exposure and experiences that you wouldn't normally have in Gull Lake, outside Kalamazoo, Michigan. They were always pushing me to think in terms of, well, what else can I do, how can I push myself? How can I extend further? It seemed like a path too well laid out for me if I wanted to work for the company. My dad did say, if you wanna work for the company, you need to bring a formal degree with it, with your application. So I did go to law school, and sort of like Perk, I found out that there's so many ways of being involved in something bigger than yourself, something that can have a big influence. I really looked to my dad to say, I don't really want to keep being a lawyer. I want to start an alternative energy company that will show you can produce massive amounts of electricity without using fossil fuels. And he was always supportive of every shift and turn that I took through my career.

[00:41:03] Gordon: Do you think he would've preferred that you joined the family company? Would that have made him happier or, or he was just as happy for you to find your own path?

[00:41:14] WILL: Definitely happier that I found my own path, but it took me a long time to realize that what he really wanted was for me to pursue the areas that I felt passionate about and  could make a difference in. He was very admirable. As a matter of fact, he became chairman of that, of that alternative energy company,

[00:41:43] Gordon: Perk, did your dad strongly encourage you to become part of Orvis? Did he leave it up to you? How did you make that decision?

[00:41:53] PERK:  Interesting. When I sort of felt my father's pressure, I would say I felt it much more in attending Williams than I did in joining the family business. I think he liked my alternative path of taking a, a legal path into environmental causes. He was delighted, and he really didn't have an heir to his position in the company. I ended up filling a lot of holes that he hadn't hired anyone else to fill.

[00:42:31] Gordon: Did you feel as though he was sort of looking over your shoulder the whole time, or did he let let you run the company as you saw fit?

[00:42:37] PERK: You know, interestingly, early on I did not feel that at all. And then later on after I'd sort of proven myself, I did feel he was looking over my shoulder all the time.

[00:42:48] Gordon: Okay. But you made peace with that.

[00:42:52] PERK: Yeah, I did. Yep.

[00:42:54] Gordon: Okay, let me talk a little bit more about fathers and sons, but more in what I'd call passionate pursuits. Because Perk, you've said you're an avid conservationist, outdoors man.  Will, you're a pilot. These were passions that your fathers shared. I wonder whether in the father-son relationship, they encouraged this or were you were inspired by their example.

[00:43:20] PERK: I would say really both in my case, I was particularly inspired by learning the different ways that one could make a difference in the field of environmental activism or conservation law. One thing that my father did not engage in when he was running the business and an active conservationist, he didn't engage in any activism. In the last 20 years, Orvis has become quite an activist role in our conservation practices. One of the things that I think he missed out on, that I learned along the way is that a lot of the decisionmakers in Washington DC know what the nonprofits are gonna say to 'em. The practitioners are gonna come and they know exactly where they're coming from, what they're gonna say, and it's hardly worth spending any time with 'em. But when they bring someone from a profession or a business who can speak to why that cause is either deleterious or beneficial to their business, it makes a huge difference.

I remember going down and lobbying for the replumbing of the Everglades, south of Lake Okeechobee. This was in Tallahassee.The elected officials there were astonished that I had come down from Vermont to talk about the value of the Everglades to our customers and our business, and it made a far bigger impression on them than had the professionals : in that case  the two other nonprofits, Captains for Clean Water and the Everglades Foundation. So I was inspired by his methods, which then sort of led to new methods.

[00:45:16] Gordon: You know, the other thing I would imagine and have done a little bit of lobbying on my own is that where there's an intersection of lobbying with government officials who shoot, who fly fish and have the same passions you do. So you're talking to them on a business level, but you also have that common interest and I would think that would make a difference.

[00:45:39] PERK: It does, but have you run into this Gordon? They use it to their advantage. 'cause you're going in there to make a pitch on something. Right. And they get you off on fly fishing and pretty soon it's like, oh, I gotta run to a meeting. And you never got your pitch in?

[00:45:54] Gordon: Good point. Will, any comments on your friend's comments?

[00:46:00] WILL: Oh, I was always envious of the capacity of Perk to have a job that was bullseye-centering with his passion. The fact that he followed his father's  zest for life, and the ability to combine that with job .Not only make a great living at it, but to influence thousands, millions of people to get out and experience nature in a productive, positive, health-inducing way.

I was always very, very proud and, and admiring of that.

[00:46:43] Gordon: Well, there's a third person on this broadcast who's been jealous of Perk for 50 years,

[00:46:48] WILL: right.

[00:46:49] Gordon: And that's me. But I also think you did the same thing, Will. You followed your passions too. I know how much you care about your role in education, your role in environmental literacy, so you followed a path that really turns you on as well.

[00:47:06] WILL: Mm-Hmm. You know how I got onto that path. It was very much because of the way my father conducted his work life and his flying life. While I'm not actually a, a pilot, I did use my pilot credentials to work for an organization that uses airplanes to educate people from the bird's eye perspective on what's happening on the ground. It's called Lighthawk. It’s a wonderful means of getting information into the hands of journalists and decisionmakers,  to help them make better environmental decisions. I used my flying in in that sense. But dad would always say, don't complain. Find a solution. That was part of the reason that I did that kind of flying.

Then as I kept moving upstream to try to find those solutions, age 49 it dawned on me that the one area I hadn't looked at was education. So I became a school teacher, and started the environmental science program at a public school in San Francisco and built that out. And then taught civics. That really launched my last 20-some years, on this education path about using the public schools to prioritize something that every kid is interested in now: climate change education. To make it part of the DNA of of kids throughout California, all 6 million of them, to have this idea that, you know what, we're not separate from nature, we're connected to nature and how can everybody live a life with that in mind, and make choices and support policies that can minimize the human impact on the environment. I think with an educated population,  we can make a lot  of headway that we're beginning to see.

[00:49:14] Gordon: So that takes me back to Williams in a way, and the environment, because as you know, Williams as well as other colleges and universities are really trying to develop programs and develop leadership in the area of the environment and sustainability. So I want you to think about colleges and universities and young people and what role you think they can play. You've touched on it, Will, to help solve this climate problem, but think of it through the prism of colleges and universities and teaching: what role colleges and universities can play in this area.


[00:49:53] PERK: an important role for Williams College and the educators to play in this is to show the breadth of pathways to solutions and not just settle on policy, which can be such a victim to politics. Teach how market forces have and can make a difference, right down to the grassroots operations. You know, there's this great example of the group of Montana kids from age five to 22, just won a court case in Montana that goes right to the state constitution on how to prevent additional coal and fossil fuel development in the pursuit of protecting against climate change.

[00:50:53] Gordon: We have now set the scene for you. You're in an auditorium and in the audience are hundreds of young leaders in the environment and sustainability, and both you and Perk are on the stage and you have a single thought to deliver to this next generation of leaders. What would you tell them?

[00:51:17] PERK: I'd take a maybe unexpected approach and talk to them about integrity. That you can be there. There are great leaders in the world and they lead in opposite directions, and they sometimes lead in directions they may not even have intended to go. They have teams around them. And the role of integrity with leaders is crucial. I think a lot of people get so bent on a goal that maybe that integrity falls by the wayside. I’d tgry to come up with some things to say about integrity.

[00:52:01] WILL: I would focus in on moving away from “how can I be the leader” to how can we lead in a way that others will follow and create a movement that actually moves the needle in the way that we relate to the environment. If you count up the number of actual leadership positions of CEOs and assembly members and mayors and senators and whatever, there just aren't that many slots. So I would talk about the many ways of being a leader, and you can be a leader in showing how it's really great to share the limelight, to share the energy, to be involved with other people working on a similar mission. It doesn't have to be about “I'm gonna be the leader” at all.  If we can peel away a little bit of the ego orientation about “follow me” and rather decide and teach about ways that people need to be good followers as well. Good followers, meaning choosing to support the leader that they wish, perhaps that they could be, that they aren't for whatever reason, but putting their energies behind. In this respect,  the climate actions that have that long term impact to pull us back from the brink.

[00:53:27] Gordon: Well, whatever we do, we have to do it together.

[00:53:30] WILL: right?

[00:53:31] Gordon: Yeah. Well, we have covered a lot of ground from your trip to Williams, to your lives, to the retreats, to many things. Are there any closing thoughts you'd like to leave for our listeners on these or other subjects?

[00:53:48] PERK: Well, yeah, I had a thought,  along those lines, when, when I look at what I've done since college through my careers, and what I really feel good about, accomplishments. There are two and they, and they both are around relationships I prize above almost anything else.

The friendship and relationship that Will and I have developed and enjoyed all these years. I would put that above so many other things in my life. And the other one very similar is I work side by side with my brother David,  for 40 years at Orvis.

[00:54:38] Gordon: He joined you on your trip?

[00:54:40] PERK: He did. Yeah. One of my biggest business points of pride is that he and I worked side by side. We ran the business successfully and we are still great friends. He called me today. He wanted to know how I was doing and when I was gonna sort of finish up with my radiation treatment here in Salt Lake City and when we could get out fishing again. There are very few people who can talk about having that long working relationship and as well as a friend relationship with a family member and a family business. I'm not the first one to say that. It all comes down to relationships, but I can feel it poignantly myself.

[00:55:26] Gordon: Will?

[00:55:28] WILL:  I'll tee off of, as I do so much with Perk, something that he just said, which wasnthe relationship aspect. Throughout my career, I've learned that it's not about the transaction, it's about the relationship and that really that idea of developing relationships first and transactions second has been a, a key to the success that I've enjoyed on all different sorts of levels, and the different careers that I've engaged in. Particularly in the one that we're in now: the commitment to maintaining a deep, deep friendship. The one that Perk and I have is so important to my life as well. We have helped each other through so many different aspects of our life. It's my relationship with Perk that is the firmest sort of grounding relationship that,  outside my marriage, I have. So thank you.

[00:56:37] Gordon: Well, I'll tell you that,  I am in awe of your relationship and what you've done to protect it and enhance it, and it's also been a joy to have known you both somewhat at Williams, but in these and other episodes to get to know you again. I thank you for that. And I thank you for participating and I hope to see you in person very soon, maybe even at Reunion.

[00:57:05] VO: I want to thank Will and Perk for joining us today, and I want to thank all of you for listening in. I also want to remind everyone that you can see photos and listen to this and other episodes of A Williams Life on our website, 75

Until next time, this is Gordon Earl. Thanks for tuning in.

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