Elvey Perkins, Clovis’ first black employee, dies

Elvey Perkins, 85, died Aug. 3. He was a retired field services superintendent for Clovis.
Elvey Perkins, 85, died Aug. 3. He was a retired field services superintendent for Clovis.

Elvey Perkins was an expert in Clovis history and was always looking for a way to help the community long after retiring as the city’s field services superintendent in 1993.

He made a little history himself when he became the first black employee hired by the city of Clovis in 1957 and one of the first three black students to graduate from Clovis High School almost a decade earlier.

Mr. Perkins, 85, died the night of Aug. 3. He was ill and had a bad heart, his wife, Lois Harris-Perkins said.

“He was a giver,” Harris-Perkins said. “If someone came to him, he would help them. He was always there for other people. That was the way he lived his life.”

Mr. Perkins was born July 26, 1930 in Trinity, Texas, to Elvey Sr. and Lonnie Perkins, who later divorced when he was 4, according to the Clovis Museum and Clovis-Big Dry Creek Historical Society. He was raised by his paternal grandmother and moved to Clovis in 1947 after his mother remarried. Lonnie Perkins and Jack Eaton started Jack’s Garage, the first black-owned and operated commercial business in town.

Mr. Perkins graduated from Clovis High School and attended Reedley College as a music major, where he also lettered in football. He was drafted into the Army during the Korean War. He married Geraldine Bryan in 1951. They had three sons. She died in 1982.

On May 28, 1957, Mr. Perkins became the first black employee to be hired by the city. “He was outstanding,” said Clovis City Council member Harry Armstrong. “He was highly respected and thought of by all of the other workers.”

Retired Clovis police Sgt. Shelby Cox remembers a hardworking man who would do anything for anyone. Cox and Mr. Perkins worked together at the city and they served on the board of directors for the historical society.

“He had the greatest personality,” Cox said. “At the historical society, he was always trying to come up with new things to help the community. He wanted to give money for scholarships.”

Mr. Perkins was on the board for several years, said Peg Bos, society president. “His stories and memories were invaluable to us. He will be missed. He set a high road for us to follow.”

The city recognized Mr. Perkins for his leadership and dedication by declaring Elvey Perkins Week in 1977 and 1987.

President Ronald Reagan appointed Mr. Perkins as public works ambassador to Vietnam to help with infrastructure improvements. He was also honored by the the California State Department of Water Resources for supervising one of the most effective wastewater treatment plants in the state.

Mr. Perkins met Harris-Perkins on a blind date in 1984. They were married three years later. Both had been married once before and said they wouldn’t marry again, Harris-Perkins said. Then, “one day, he said it would be more convenient if we got married,” she said.

When not working, he liked to travel to South America and Europe and loved cruises. He was also a lifelong learner and last year had started to extend his knowledge of Spanish. He was a church deacon and trustee at Christian Community Church. He was also a thirty-third degree Mason.

“He was a marvelous man,” said Bos, the Clovis historical society president. “He always had a smile and a laughter that you don’t forget.”

BoNhia Lee: 559-441-6495, @bonhialee


Elvey Perkins

Birth: July 26, 1930

Death: Aug. 3, 2015

Age: 85

Residence: Clovis

Occupation: Retired field services superintendent for city of Clovis

Survivors: Wife, Lois Harris-Perkins; children, Lonnell, Kim and Andre Perkins, John Harris and Kristi Tyner; several grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Services: Wake at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jesse E. Cooley Jr. Funeral Service, 1830 S. Fruit Ave., Fresno; service 10 a.m. Friday, Christian Community Church, 3838 N. West Ave., Fresno.