Remembering Doug Perkins


When Doug Perkins died May 6, the local community – indeed, the entire San Diego region – lost a great champion for children and the underserved.

Locally, many knew Perkins as a long-time trustee of the Del Mar Union School District. But there was so much more.

Perkins was early to understand the importance of San Diego’s proximity to Mexico and the need for cooperation between the two border regions.

As one of a group that founded the South County Economic Development Council, he served from 1990 to 2004 as its executive director.

Current SCEDC president and chief executive officer Cindy Gompper-Graves said, “He was a visionary and would see opportunities when others didn’t. Now it’s the thing to do, to be binational, but back then it wasn’t.”

A major South County EDC accomplishment was the opening last December of the Cross Border Xpress, a pedestrian walkway connecting the Tijuana airport to the United States.

Gompper-Graves said Perkins conceived of the need for the bridge more than 15 years ago and worked tirelessly to bring it to fruition.

“It’s a huge success and is nothing short of miraculous” that it was completed, she said.

Gompper-Graves called Perkins a kind person and hard worker who didn’t brag about his work but “just went in and got it done.”

Workforce Partnership

The San Diego Workforce Partnership, which funds job training programs, was another of Perkins’ passions.

Judy Lawton, owner and CEO of The Lawton Group, worked with Perkins in the early years of the SDWP.

“Doug was in, out and around the SDWP for so many years,” Lawton said. “He was well-known and very well-respected.”

The two worked together in 1978 at a training agency, “which was for each of us the beginning of our adventures into making life better for economically disadvantaged people in our community,” she said.

“He was smart, savvy, chronically tardy and always a champion to others in need,” Lawton said. “His tenacity and passion served him well, and he should be remembered for all the good he accomplished for so many.”

After hearing the news of Perkins’ death, San Diego City Councilmember Mark Kersey tweeted, “Many in SD may not know how important Doug Perkins was to the work of the SD Workforce Partnership. Great workforce mind/partner. He’ll be missed.”

Taxpayers Association

The San Diego County Taxpayers Association also benefited from Perkins’ involvement.

Scott Barnett, who began his political career in 1984 at age 21 when he was elected to the Del Mar City Council, served seven years as executive director of the SDCTA.

In 1995, the SDCTA’s 55th year, Barnett wanted to recognize the milestone. It was Perkins, he said, who came up with the idea of doing a local version of then Senator William Proxmire’s Golden Fleece Awards to highlight government waste.

Thus was born the SDCTA’s now famous Golden Fleece and Watchdog annual awards dinner.

“If not for Doug, the awards would never have happened,” Barnett said.

He said Perkins would often say, “The essence of democracy is informed dissent.”

“I have plagiarized this line many times,” Barnett said.

“In 30 plus years of working in politics, Doug was without doubt one of the most decent guys I’ve ever met,” he said.

County Board of Education

Perkins, owner of Pacific Gateway Group, served on the San Diego Chamber of Commerce Education Committee, worked for three years on the Executive Committee of the California State Council on Vocational Education, and was a board member of the Able-Disabled Advocacy group.

He was also a Deacon of the Solana Beach Presbyterian Church, where he volunteered to help local residents attain legal citizenship, provided career counseling, and assisted military families at Camp Pendleton.

His stroke in February 2015 prevented Perkins from serving on San Diego County’s Board of Education, to which he had been elected in November 2014.

Although his opponent was endorsed by a long list of big names in education and benefited from teachers’ union money, Perkins won decisively.

Perkins was well-known in the Del Mar community, but his name was not generally recognized throughout the rest of District 5, which stretches from Del Mar to Fallbrook along the coastal region.

“I never thought he had a chance,” said his wife Carolyn.

Perkins’ improbable win was a resounding defeat for the union-backed candidate and victory for a man who believed in strong fiscal oversight, fairness, and nonpartisan decision-making in the best interests of students.

Del Mar board

Perkins was appointed to an open seat on the Del Mar school board in May 2008, and successfully ran to retain the seat in the 2008 and 2012 elections.

One driving principle guided him as a school board member: “He was concerned that money not be spent at the administrative level but that it gets to the kids,” Carolyn said.

All three of the Perkins children attended Del Mar Heights Elementary School from kindergarten through sixth grade, then finished their grades 7-12 education at San Dieguito schools.

Heights principal Wendy Wardlow remembers Perkins both as a father (“He was so proud of his children,” she said) and as a trustee.

“Doug was vibrantly involved with everything we were doing,” Wardlow said. “We didn’t always agree, but I could talk to him and he would listen.”

Calling him thoughtful and respectful, she said he influenced her in many ways. “I’ve tried to be a better leader because of Doug,” she said.

Although a staunch Republican, Perkins’ friends crossed all political boundaries.

Doug Rafner, president of the DMUSD school board, said it was a privilege to work with Perkins on the board for more than four years.

“Doug was a warm, kind, generous person, and a good friend,” he said.

Perkins “held a torch for the conservative side of all things,” said Rafner, a registered Democrat. “But you had to know who you were dealing with when you worked with Doug Perkins.”

He said Perkins put students first in every decision and set aside ideological differences.

“Although it was easy for him to see things through his conservative lens, Doug would welcome other viewpoints,” he said. “I think this was all part of what made Doug Perkins so special.”

Calling Perkins an insightful and wise leader, DMUSD superintendent Holly McClurg said, “Doug was a wonderful man, and I had such respect for him.”

“DMUSD is better because of his strong leadership and his love for our district’s children, staff, and community,” she said.

Tragic loss

Perkins grew up in New Jersey and received his undergraduate degree in Spanish and counseling from Bucknell University and his master’s degree in education from the University of Maryland.

Besides his family and conservative causes, Carolyn said Doug had three other passions: the beach, public education, and music.

He was loyal, a hard worker, trustworthy and honest, she said.

“He could not tolerate dishonesty,” Carolyn said. “You never wondered if what he’s saying is true.”

He did not have any serious underlying health issues, she said, so the stroke came without warning, during a Sunday morning church service in early February 2015.

Despite doctors in church who tended to him quickly and a fast-response ambulance, it was a massive hemorrhagic stroke from which he never recovered.

Perkins lived for 15 months after his stroke, Carolyn said, but never had a good quality of life. He died May 6 at the age of 65.

He is survived by his wife, three children, one sister, two brothers, and his father Harry Perkins, age 91, who resides in New Jersey.

There are many reasons why Perkins’ death is tragic. His family’s pain is immeasurable. And for the public, who can no longer benefit from his intelligence, passion, wisdom and charm, we’ve lost a powerful voice for children and for the poor and struggling among us. The loss is irreplaceable.

A celebration of Doug Perkins’ life will be held Friday, June 10 at 2 p.m. at the Solana Beach Presbyterian Church at 120 Stevens Avenue in Solana Beach.

[For the complete version of this tribute to Doug Perkins, please go to this column at]

Sr. Education Writer Marsha Sutton can be reached at