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Inside DELTA: 5 Questions with James Perry

A smiling man posing outdoors in front of some trees.

If you’ve had a good experience at a DELTA event in the last couple years, you probably have James Perry to thank. 

As the primary event planner for many all-DELTA events and activities, Perry makes sure the drinks are cold, vegetarians have options and everyone is having a good time celebrating one another’s accomplishments or learning something new. 

He loves the satisfaction of a job well done, and nowhere is that more obvious than at a well-attended event where people don’t want to leave. 

“It’s so great to see people just sit back and enjoy themselves,” he said. “I love the smiles that you see when people are in fellowship with each other.”

What is your role with DELTA?

Perry joined DELTA as a temporary executive assistant to the Vice Provost in July 2022 after being unexpectedly laid off by the pharmaceutical company where he worked as a senior case manager. 

He’d been a successful executive assistant before, working for more than three years at the NC Department of Health and Human Services, so he knew the drill: calendaring, managing building access and maintenance, handling room requests, coordinating events and meetings, correspondence — among many other tasks. 

What Perry didn’t expect was how much he would love the people and culture at DELTA

“I knew during my interview that I would love to work here, even as a temp, even though it was not in my educational wheelhouse,” he said. “Right after the interview, I told my wife ‘I really want this job.’”

He applied for and was thrilled to be offered the permanent position in October 2022. 

“I love the cross-team functionality here, how people are not siloed,” he said. “And DELTA’s leadership team is full of brilliant leaders who know how to run an organization — and are also great people.”

Now, as the permanent, full-time executive assistant to Vice Provost Donna Petherbridge — “I couldn’t ask for a better boss” — Perry is a member of the team that helps make concepts reality through planning and logistical coordination. 

With responsibilities that require him to be in-office most days, James appreciates the opportunity to get to know most of the folks who work at DELTA, and to better understand how the various teams collaborate with each other. 

“Since I started with DELTA I have never felt disconnected from people, regardless of their work structure or project team,” he said. “There is so much for me to learn here, and people are so willing to teach me.”

What is your background?

Perry is a born and bred North Carolinian, as are his parents and most of his extended family (which is substantial — his grandfather had 18 children). 

“There are a lot of Perrys around here,” he laughed.

Raised in Lewisburg and later Henderson — where “you could throw a dime from one end of town to the other” — Perry enjoys a more rural life. He particularly likes the green space and quiet of his new neighborhood in Angier, where he and his wife, Shayla, recently bought their first home. 

“It’s just enough country for me, while still being close to the city,” he said. And although he has a two-hour round-trip commute to and from work, “It’s 100% worth it to live there, in my own place,” he said.

Perry and his wife Shayla celebrate closing on their new home in Angier.

Perry attended Wake Early College of Health and Sciences, a magnet high school which prepared him to major in public health at St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh. As a private, independent HBCU, St. Augustine’s would have been unattainable without the help of the scholarship he was awarded. 

“I would have loved to attend NC State,” he said, “but the scholarship to St. Augustine’s made the dream of college a reality.”

He went on to earn a Master’s in Public Health from Grand Canyon University through a fully online program — less common back in those pre-COVID days — that allowed him to continue working while earning his degree. 

Though he was a remote student, Perry was able to attend his commencement ceremony in person, at the GCU campus in Phoenix. In June. During the hottest summer on record on a triple digit day. 

“Trash cans were literally melting on the street,” he said. 

Despite the heat, the trip would change his life. Perry was accompanied to graduation by his dad and then-girlfriend Shayla. When they missed their return flight to Raleigh, they found themselves stuck in Phoenix for five extra days. 

During that time, he and Shayla really got to know one another, spending time in the desert under the night sky, learning about varieties of cactus, visiting museums and talking until the sun came up.

They were engaged soon after. 

“I told my dad I’d found the person I wanted to spend my life with,” Perry said (we’re not sure what dad had been doing for those five days, but hopefully he was having fun and staying cool).

Perry and Shayla were married in early 2020. Their honeymoon in Charleston, South Carolina, was interrupted, however, by the outbreak of a global pandemic: when his family finally got ahold of Perry (he’d had his phone off), they suggested he and Shayla come home early — and grab some extra toilet paper, if they could find it, along the way.  

What makes your job special?

Without question, what Perry enjoys most about his job is event planning — particularly the fun stuff, such as the all-DELTA cookout in May and the all-DELTA retreat in October. 

“Planning events for weeks and then seeing them come to life is an awesome experience,” he said. “I get to see the execution of plans from conception to completion.” 

Event planning, for those who have not done it, is a time-consuming and detail-oriented task that generally falls into the “you love it or you hate it” category. From coordinating the venue, food, budget, speakers and activities to corralling RSVPs and enlisting volunteers, it is a ton of work. 

Perry is in the “loves it” category. 

Perry and Petherbridge at the all-DELTA cookout at Pullen Park, May 30, 2024. Photo: Katie Gluf.

He also recognizes the Mentoring @ DELTA initiative as value added in his role. Having participated in the pilot program in 2023 with mentors Jessie Sova and Bill Hicks, Perry looks forward to partnering with mentor Andrew Wiedner in this year’s program.

“Because I had such wonderful mentors, the pilot experience was awesome,” he said. “I can’t wait to get started again.”

What is something about you people may not know?

That scholarship to St. Augustine’s? It was for music: Perry is an exceptional brass musician. 

His main instrument is the trombone, but he also plays a decent trumpet, as well as the euphonium (a versatile member of the tuba family with the pitch range of a trombone, the dexterity of a cornet and the depth of sound of the tuba).

Like many young adults, Perry wanted to play percussion — specifically, the snare drum. But his 6th grade music teacher had other ideas: Perry could play snare if he learned how to play two other instruments first. 

He never did play the snare drum.

“Mr. Ledford knew what he was doing, and he developed a lot of good musicians,” laughed Perry. “And I’m so glad he did. I love playing the trombone.”

Something of a prodigy, Perry was playing with the local high school while still a middle schooler. He twice competed solo at the North Carolina all-state honor band competition, and went three times to the competition as a member of the marching band. 

After taking a break during high school (Wake Early College does not have a music program), Perry made up for lost time at St. Augustine’s, joining the marching band, jazz band, concert band, brass ensemble and pep band — everything except the string quartet. 

Generally preferring to read sheet music rather than improvise back then, Perry speculates that he might be more open to freestyle playing nowadays. Unfortunately, he lost his trombone (and pretty much everything else) in an apartment fire in early 2023, so he’s on the lookout for a replacement. 

“I definitely want to get back into playing,” he said. “Now that I have a yard of my own, I picture myself sitting out there blowing on a sunny afternoon.”

What do you do in your spare time?

“In my spare time,” Perry said, “I am a full-time gamer nerd.”

It’s not that gaming is a nerdy endeavor in and of itself; rather, the games he most enjoys are what make him a nerd: puzzle games, problem-solving games and immersive whodunits of the sort where you play a crime solver. 

On his gaming computer with a three-monitor set-up, he’s currently enjoying Shadows of Doubt, set in a noirish sci-fi city of crime and corruption where the gamer is a detective of questionable morals, and Phasmaphobia, a multiplayer psychological horror game that Perry describes as “a scarier version of Clue where everyone is a ghost.” 

Perhaps nerdier than his gaming predilection is his affinity for old horror movies — not just older films from his childhood, but true classics: think Nosferatu (1922), Dracula (1931), The Blob (1958) and It Came From Outer Space (1953).

The caveat for him is that the films have to be original ideas, not remakes. 

“At the time they were made, these movies were cutting edge, even with mistakes in them like visible boom mics,” Perry explained. “Watching them makes me feel nostalgic for the golden age of filmmaking.”

As for (relatively) more recent films he enjoys, he cites The Abyss (1989) and Event Horizon (1997), along with the Avatar franchise. 

Perry also loves fishing — nothing nerdy about that — and often takes trips with his mom to Lake Gaston, where the fishing is excellent due to a well-stocked lake full of bass, crappie, catfish, carp and grouper. They mostly catch and release, since “it’s a long drive back to Angier with a cooler full of stinky fish,” he laughed. 

Perry with his mom, Amy Bullock, at Lake Gaston.

This summer, Perry and his wife look forward to making their new house a home, spending time with their friends and families and celebrating the big and little things in life together. 

With the DELTA cookout in the books, he is already thinking ahead about how he will ensure that the all-DELTA retreat this fall is engaging and energizing, and most of all fun, for his colleagues. 

“It is awesome to work with so many amazing people here,” he said. “DELTA is one of a kind.”