Louis Brewster, Staff Writer
POMONA - Certainly the attitude throughout the Pomona Unified School District, and particularly at Garey High School, did not reflect a Monday full of sunshine.
“There was an uneasy quietness when I walked into the district offices (Monday) morning,” said Paul Breit, a former principal at Garey and Ganesha who remains a district consultant. “We are all numb, disbelieving. We have all suffered a great loss.”
It was a sentiment shared throughout the district and city. George Perry, a head football coach at Pomona and Ganesha before taking on the athletic director job at Garey, and his wife Clara were killed Sunday night in a one-car accident coming down the Cajon Pass.
According to the San Bernardino County Coroner, the Perrys’ 2001 Ford Explorer rolled several times on the southbound side of the 15 Freeway just north of Highway 138 before landing in a dirt ravine on the west side of the freeway.
Both George, 58, and Clara Perry, 59, were returning to their Rancho Cucamonga home after visiting family in Las Vegas.
“We are struggling,” Garey Principal Stacy Wilkins said late Monday. “Our staff is taking this very hard, and so are our students. He was well-loved on our campus, always smiling, always willing to help out in any way he could. He had such a positive impact on our staff, students and parents.
“We feel as though we have lost a family member.”
There was a common thread from those who spent Monday recalling their memories of Perry, and it was about family.
“He was a great family man,” said Breit, who brought back Perry to the Pomona district in 2001 as the Ganesha football coach after a stint at Cheyenne High School in Las Vegas.
In all, Perry worked in the district for more than 17 years. Before being named the head coach at Pomona in 1978, Perry served on Roman Gabriel’s staff at Cal Poly Pomona.
In addition to his various jobs in Pomona, Perry also returned to his hometown of Yakima, Wash., to coach at Davis High School, where he graduated in 1970. He also coached a semi-pro team in Los Angeles for two years before heading north.
In 1991, Perry opened Cheyenne and took the school to the state title game in 1995. He was head coach there through the 1999 season before returning to Ganesha.
In 2003, Perry replaced the retiring Joel Wiese as athletic director at Garey.
“This is a huge loss for Pomona, especially Garey,” said Robert Martinez, Pomona schools superintendent. “He not only supported young students but other teachers, administrators and cabinet members.
“He was caring, sincere in a genuine way of being.”
As an assistant superintendent, Martinez said he interacted frequently with Perry.
“He was always willing to coach up our administrators,” said Martinez, “and help in any way he could. Hearing the students (at Monday’s brief memorial service at Garey), they all said how proud they were to have known him, always helping them to find a way to stay out of situations.”
Curtis Donaldson knew Perry for more than 25 years before he retired from the district last year. Throughout Perry’s travels, the two maintained contact.
“He was a good person, a good person,” Donaldson said. “He was also a good coach. His teams didn’t always have the best talent, but they won.
“He did a lot of good for the kids in Pomona, he made a difference. Those kids at Garey, well, they were his kids and he focused on those kids.”
Leonard Hudson, the Garey football coach, first encountered Perry when his older brother Daryl played for Perry at Pomona. “I was just running around, the ball boy,” Hudson said.
But he came to see Perry in a different light last season under some trying circumstances at Garey.
“He was a good mentor, always giving me little tidbits. He was always caring, always there,” Hudson said. “It was reassuring to me that he always had my back, and that’s what I was looking for. He was that type of man.
“If he gave you his word, it stuck.”
Monse Estrada, the school’s longtime baseball coach, said the students will miss Perry.
“He really cared about the kids and meant a lot to them because he pushed them,” Estrada said. “He was on their case to do the right thing. He’ll be sorely missed, that’s for sure. His personality was upbeat. He was a good man.
“Like I tell my kids, `Life is short and you never know what’s going to happen.’ You need to appreciate life as much as you can and work as hard as you can. Get what you need to get.”
Breit recalled what drew him to bring Perry back into the district.
“He related to the kids. Like any coach, he knew his Xs and Os,” Breit said, “but the factor in my hiring him was that he could relate to kids, and they liked him, they respected him.
“What a loss for us, what a tremendous loss.”
Staff Writer Wes Woods II contributed to this story.