Dr. Perry Webb was a man who wore many hats. Often dressed in slacks, a dress shirt, and some sort of flat cap, he had a classic style about him. Slim in build and with a full head of silvery hair, he had been a Baptist preacher for many years. But to me, he was always just the kind neighbor who lived across the street, and my first boss. He and his wife built a house in my neighborhood several years ago and lived there until he passed away earlier this year. He was 91.
When my older brother and I were growing up, Dr. Webb would often call us over to rake leaves, clean flowerbeds, lay pine straw, and mow his yard. One summer, Dr. Webb bought grass for his back yard and called us to come lay it down. We spent two days—two of the hottest days on record in a sweltering Louisiana summer—laying grass pads down in his back yard. But he paid us well—we each earned $48, good money for part-time labor.
Dr. Webb would often joke about paying us in Confederate States money, just to see how we would react. He would also sometimes use his age to play jokes on people, like one time he fondly recounted to us. After dinner in a downtown restaurant, he called the waitress over and said (very seriously), “Do you have change for a dollar? I want to leave you a good tip.” At this, the waitress made a face and said, “That’s not a good tip!” which made Dr. Webb laugh (after which he left a real tip).
There seemed to be no end to Dr. Webb’s stories. Born in 1925, he could remember speculating with his friends as a teenager when D-Day was going to happen. His guess had been June 4th—two days early as it turned out.
Even into his 80’s, Dr. Webb maintained a great deal of energy. I often saw him in the early morning going on a walk around the neighborhood. He maintained that as he got older he needed less sleep—staying up until midnight and rising at 5 or 6 every day. He chalked the change up to the fact that he expended less energy during the day than he used to.
This past November, on break from school around Thanksgiving, I had an extra day with nothing to do, so I called Dr. Webb to see if he needed any work done the next day. He explained that he did need some wood moved to his garage for the winter, and that I could do that. There was some other work to do, he said, but a sorority at the local university had volunteered to come work, and he wanted to make sure the sorority girls had plenty to do. “I understand they’re doing this for senior citizens in the community,” he said, adding dryly, “Jack, apparently I now qualify as a senior member of the community.”
The next day, I walked over and met him at his garage. In his usual fashion (part of what made him a good boss), he gave me a careful breakdown of what he wanted me to do—he showed me where the wood was stacked, where he wanted it moved, the best way to orient the wood, and a cart I could use to move the logs.
After I finished later that day, we talked for a bit. He told me how he was unable to do as much as he used to, and how he knew that’s what happened when people get old, but that it still took adjusting to. Dr. Webb didn’t say this in an irritated tone, but in his usual, matter-of-fact sort of way. We talked some more, and then said goodbye. I remember thinking to myself as I walked home, If I can be half as active and full of energy when I am his age, I’ll be a happy man.