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Right up until his final email to a group of people he liked to keep updated on his medical condition, a note which arrived in April, Bret Perry was a beacon of hope.
"I don't plan on being a stranger," wrote Perry, who after eight years suffering from Stage IV colon cancer had undertaken being cared for by Hospice of Southeastern Connecticut. "I just have to figure out these new leashes that restrain me and get out and about.
"Take care and don't be strangers. Never be afraid to call or email, as I am sure daytime TV is worse than evening TV."
Perry, previously the varsity softball coach at Old Lyme High School for four seasons despite receiving chemotherapy treatments at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City on the team's off days, died early Sunday morning at the age of 48.
His wife Melissa delivered the news via Bret's email chain.
"I lost my best half this morning," Melissa Perry wrote. "There are no words. I just wanted to thank you for all the support, prayers, well wishes and good deeds we have received over his eight-year battle."
"Very inspiring, let me tell you," said East Lyme High softball coach Judy Deeb, on whose staff Perry coached before taking the job at Old Lyme. "Even in his emails he was always so positive, you'd think he had a bad bruise or something. To go through that for eight years? But he kept that same positive attitude. I'm sure that's what kept him alive. He kept swinging and he kept getting a hit."
"He was definitely dedicated to our program. He would go get a chemo treatment and come back to softball practice," former Old Lyme and current Coast Guard Academy pitcher Sammy Yuknat said Sunday in a telephone interview from her summer assignment in Sitka, Alaska. "It was a win-win situation: we would feed off the inspiration he was giving to us and I think we helped him also."
Under Perry, Old Lyme reached the Class S state tournament quarterfinals in 2010 for the first time in program history.
Perry also recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award by Connecticut District 10 Little League for his dedication to that organization. Perry coached in East Lyme and Old Lyme, umpired throughout the state, served as Assistant District Administrator for softball, Umpire Coordinator for District 10 and was tournament director for numerous district, sectional and state Little League tournaments.
At one Junior League tournament game last summer in East Lyme, it was Perry left to call Little League Eastern Region Headquarters in Bristol for a rule clarification following a protest.
Old Lyme athletic director Rob Roach hopes to meet with the school's softball team today, many of whom knew Perry. Perry coached the Wildcats through the 2011 season before taking a leave of absence last year.
"His enthusiasm, his attitude, his knowledge of the game, he turned out to be an AD's dream," Roach said. "I remember sitting at the first Shoreline Conference final in program history and thinking, 'This can't be Old Lyme.' He took us to the heights."
Roach spoke to Deeb before hiring Perry. Deeb told him Perry deserved a chance despite his illness; Roach soon saw that for himself.
"He sat in the interview with all this energy, all this optimism, even though that was a hell of a challenge he had," Roach said. "I mean, a lot of people can't get out of bed in the morning."
Featured in a story in The Day's sports section on May 15, 2009, titled "This coach has 'plenty to celebrate,'" Perry was originally diagnosed with cancer in February, 2005, when he passed out at work and lost more than 50 percent of his blood supply. In 2006, he was given eight months to live, nearly placed on palliative care without hope of surviving.
Until recently, however, he maintained his job at Pfizer, Inc., as a scientist in the department of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.
He attended his daughter Karin's wedding in Mississippi on March 23 and walked her down the aisle. A month later he celebrated his 48th birthday. He was a dedicated husband, father and grandfather.
Perry often said he only gave himself 15 minutes per day to feel sorry for himself.
"You gotta live life," Perry told The Day in 2009. "You don't let little things in life get to you. I don't think I've ever let anything stand in my way. … People don't understand. They ask me, 'Why are you working?' Well, I could stay home and watch Jerry Springer and everything else I don't like. This makes me forget about things. I'm out here (coaching), trying to help these ladies become better people in life."