Harry M. Perks, 85, engineer who supervised many Philadelphia building projects.

Posted: October 01, 2013

HARRY M. PERKS was the guy who got things done.

Whether it was supervising the building of the Pennsylvania Convention Center and monitoring its expansion, building new public schools, renovating the library, the zoo and the Academy of Music, building Veterans Stadium, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts and myriad other construction projects.

Oh, as the city streets commissioner in the 1980s, he coped with Philadelphia's periodically critical trash-disposal problem.

When the convention center was completed on time and on budget in 1993, the late Willard G. Rouse III, then chairman of the center authority, gave full credit to Harry Perks, the executive director.

Although famed for his modesty, Harry agreed with Rouse. "My skill is getting the job done," he said. "Tell me what you want; I'll get it done."

Those words were the guiding spirit of Harry Perks, who died yesterday at 85. No matter what he undertook, and it seemed he was involved with many of the major projects and goals over the past five decades that made Philadelphia exceptional, Harry did it right.

"Harry Perks was one of the finest public servants we'll ever know or have the privilege to work with," Mayor Nutter said. "He was smart, honest, sincere and funny in his own way.

"He took his public service seriously and operated with the highest ethical standards and instilled those principles in everyone around him. He took on the tough jobs and completed them with great skill.

"He loved this city and its people. I learned so much from him, admired him and will miss him greatly."

In 2004, when plans were being made to expand the convention center, the Inquirer wrote in an editorial: "When Harry Perks speaks, people ought to listen."

Harry was manager of the $632 million expansion, and the issue was the proposed razing of a 10-story office building to make way for it. The implication was that if Harry Perks recommended it, it was a no-brainer.

Harry was in charge of the capital-improvement program for the Philadelphia Free Library Foundation, overseeing the five-year program that entails $30 million of improvements to the main library and 52 branches.

He was also head of project management for the $30 million capital program for the Philadelphia Zoo, including the new primate reserve, and supervised the building of Veterans Stadium.

He consulted with the Barnes Foundation in its move from Merion to the Parkway.

Harry joined Day and Zimmerman, the international Philly-based engineering company, in 1969 as executive vice president, and rose to president in 1976, retiring in 1984.

He was deputy superintendent of the Philadelphia School District from 1967-69, and was responsible for all noneducational programs. He supervised the construction of about 30 public schools.

He was owner of the engineering firm Perks-Reutter Associates from 1993 until it was sold in 2008.

Possibly his most harrowing experience was serving as streets commissioner from 1985-88, a time when trash collection bogged down and, at one point, 1,500 tons of uncollected trash clogged the streets.

"People are putting out trash faster than I can dispose of it," he once lamented.

However, he was credited with innovations in trash disposal and winning concessions from the union.

Harry Perks was born in Woodbury, N.J., the son of Matthew Mark Perks and the former Jane Waring. He graduated from Audubon High School and served in the Navy during World War II. After the Navy, he graduated from the Citadel Military College of South Carolina in 1951, then earned his master's degree in civil engineering from Yale University in 1952.

He was married to the former Gladys Middleton for 63 years before her death in 2010. He lived in Medford, N.J. He is survived by four sons, H. Mark Perks Jr., Chris Perks, Matthew Perks and Clark Perks; seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Services: Are pending.

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