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VOL. 121 | NO. 90 | Thursday, April 27, 2006

A Pearl in Life's Oyster: Perl to receive humanitarian award next month

LESLEY J. GUDEHUS | Special to The Daily News

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Position: Attorney and Partner
Company: Ford & Harrison LLP
Basics: Perl, who is the recipient of numerous honors, is about to be recognized once again at next month’s inaugural humanitarian awards dinner by Diversity Memphis.

A dedication to fair and just treatment for all has driven attorney Arnold E. Perl's life and career. Perl has been a labor and employment lawyer for some 40 years.

After earning his law degree from the University of Illinois in 1963, Perl's first job was as a trial attorney for the National Labor Relations Board in Memphis.

He soon became advisory counsel for the NLRB in Washington. Two years later, he returned to Chicago to work for the firm of McDermott, Will & Emery. Then he came back to Memphis in 1969, and in 1973 became a founding member of Young & Perl PLC. Perl recently dissolved his own law firm to join Ford & Harrison LLP, which is larger and has a variety of attorneys with different specialties.

Ford & Harrison, founded in Atlanta in 1978, concentrates its practice in all areas of labor and employment law, including employment litigation and class actions, business immigration and employee benefits. Ford & Harrison has 16 offices across the country and has more than 150 labor and employment lawyers. 

Diversity Memphis will honor Perl and four other recipients at the organization's first ever Humanitarian Awards dinner May 11 at The Peabody Hotel. The award recognizes Perl's commitment to promoting tolerance and embracing diversity in Memphis, but his body of work has helped people nationwide.

Formed in 2005, Diversity Memphis carries on many of the principles of the National Conference of Community Justice as a human relations organization dedicated to bringing together people of diverse cultural, religious or racial backgrounds. Programs include summer camps for teens, adult workshops, walks, cultural festivals, multi-faith dialogs and other programs that teach people to be more tolerant and embrace diversity. Other recipients of the Humanitarian Award this year are Jim and Lucia Gilliland, Deanie Parker and Thomas W. Scherer.

Among his numerous other national and local honors and appointments, Perl serves as chairman of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority and as chairman of the New Memphis Arena Public Building Authority, which was responsible for the construction of FedExForum. He is secretary and counsel of the Memphis Regional Chamber and chairman emeritus of the Labor and Employment Law Section of the Tennessee Bar Association.

In 1994, he was one of 25 management attorneys selected to serve on the NLRB Advisory panel appointed by NLRB Chairman William Gould. Perl also received the Communicator of the Year Award for 2004 from the Memphis chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

Perl is on the board of Temple Israel. In 1983, he and his wife, Mary Lynn, worked together to create a presence in Memphis for the American Israel Affairs Committee, a lobbying group in Washington, of which Perl served on the executive committee.

Born in Beaumont, Texas, in 1939, Perl grew up in Chicago. He and his wife have two daughters and six grandchildren.

Q: What does receiving the Diversity Memphis Humanitarian Award mean to you?

A: I'm humbled by the honor and recognition. It is not as much about me as it is about the organizations with which I've been deeply involved, including the Airport Authority, the New Memphis Arena Public Building Authority, the Memphis Regional Chamber and the faith-based institution, Temple Israel. I think all of these institutions have a common thread to do good for the benefit and welfare for the citizens of the Memphis region. Of course, none of this would have been accomplished without my partner in life, Mary Lynn, who really is the moral compass of our family. She is my wife of 41 years. Mayor [A C] Wharton received this award when the organization was still the NCCJ. He said very few awards touched him, but he always yearned to be the recipient of this award.

Q: How did you become interested in labor and employment law?

A: I became inspired by a teacher, Robin Flemming. He was a giant of a person who had a teaching appointment between the law school and the Labor Relations Institute at the University of Illinois. He did more than shed light on the subject; he brought it to life. He considered labor relations issues to be something that needed to be solved through personal relations, an opportunity to bring common-sense solutions in a collaborative model, to help people come together.

I gave up a teaching appointment at Indiana University to switch to labor-management relations. My first job was in Memphis as a trial attorney for the National Labor Relations Board before going to Washington for two years. After that, I joined the Chicago firm McDermott, Will & Emery. Then I came back to Memphis in 1969. Mary Lynn is from here. I've been in Memphis ever since.

Q: How long have you been involved with the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority?

A: I've been with the Airport Authority for 23 years and the chairman for nine and a half years. I'm the third chairman. My predecessors were Ned Cook, who served for 12 years, and Jim Easer, who served for 15. The Airport Authority is the governing body for Memphis International Airport and sets policy for the operation of the airport. Memphis International Airport is clearly the economic engine of our region. It has a $20.5 billion - that's a "B" - annual economic impact. That exceeds Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Q: How have you seen the events of Sept. 11, 2001, affect airport operations?

A: That has dramatically changed security in common areas and the boarding areas. It has affected every aspect of airport and airline operations. In Memphis, one of the greatest assets is that security is still relatively hassle free compared to other airports.

Q: What does your work with the New Memphis Arena Public Building Authority entail?

A: The challenge there is that public building projects - nationally, including our own here in Memphis - are wildly late and wildly over budget. Our goal was to build the
FedExForum on time and on budget. We also made a commitment to maximum minority participation. Looking back, it's good to see we did what we said we'd do - with record minority participation.

Q: The local PRSA chapter selected you as Communicator of the Year for 2004. Why do you think communication is important?

A: I think it has to do with effective leadership. Communication is the essence of any relationship at work or at home. Effective communications are indispensable to creating high-performance teams, so to be honored by the Memphis chapter of PRSA was, once again, humbling, but I regard it as recognition that the organizations with which I was connected worked well. Good communication shows that visions and missions make a difference, and guiding principles are essential to get the job done.

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