Standing on Principle
by Carolyn Jessamy
Not everyone can make the tough choices and sacrifices needed to achieve things
they really believe in. Roger Perry can, and in some respects his convictions
have cost him dearly. But he'll be the first to tell you it's all been worth
Roger had his eye on a career in trucking even before he left high school.
He earned his class A licence in 1981 after completing a truck-driving course
at a school in Buffalo, N.Y. Later that year, he landed a part-time driving
job with Stoney Creek, Ont.-based fruit packer E.D. Smith and Sons during tomato
season. He took the leap to owner-operator a year later, buying a used 1977
Kenworth and hiring on with Melburn Truck Lines, hauling ocean containers from
southern Ontario to the U.S. eastern seaboard.
Recognizing a good opportunity when he saw one, Roger joined International
Freight Systems (IFS) in the summer of 1988. The money was good, and equipped
with a less-used 1987 Freightliner, his future with IFS looked pretty bright.
"I felt like I was with a very progressive company," he says. "After
a year I was able to buy shares in the organization."
He was in a set-for-life position with IFS, widely regarded at the time as
one of the best owner-operator opportunities around. But as good as it was,
it presented a serious conflict for Roger.
Roger had married in 1986 and settled down with his wife Katherine in Beamsville,
Ont. In 1990, the first of the couple's three sons was born. Jesse's birth would
precipitate a decision that Roger himself may not have anticipated eight years
earlier. He sold the '87 Freightliner, and his IFS shares, and walked away from
the business he loved.
"I wanted to be home for my kids, not on the road," he says. "That
was really important to me. International Freight was a great company, and if
I'd stayed, I would have been really well off financially."
For the next six years Roger worked in a chicken hatchery in Beamsville, getting
in a little stick time running the odd delivery to chick farms. During that
time, he and Katherine rounded out their brood - Joshua was born in 1992, and
Caleb arrived in 1995. With a family of five to support, his hourly wage at
the hatchery wasn't cutting it. It was time to make his move back into the trucking
"I was cashing in RRSP's to make it - I had to go back to what I knew,
and to where I could make money." In 1997 he bought a two-year-old Freightliner,
and six months later - realizing the potential to make more money - he bought
a 5-axle Titan flatbed trailer to haul steel.
That same year he started doing regional work for Hamilton's Norris Transport.
He wanted to work as much of a day-job as possible, and Roger did an enviable
job of balancing his professional life and his family life.
"I'd get on the road at about three in the morning and I'd be home by
dinnertime - between five and seven," he says. "I usually get about
five hours sleep a night. This way I have time for my kids in the evening -
helping them with homework and basketball in the winter, and a little bit of
soccer for my youngest in the summer. On weekends we'd go fishing and canoeing."
He was doing a good job of making up lost ground, and then Norris Transport
went bankrupt. In March of 2002, the company had roughly 40 drivers, some of
whom lost upwards of $30,000. Roger took an $18,000 hit. "I was at a really
low point," he recalls. "I'd kind of lost my faith in humanity. I
couldn't believe Norris could do that to us."
Roger steeled himself for the tough times ahead. And come they did. One thing
he didn't bank on, however, was the way friends, family, and suppliers rallied
'round him. He had been a regular customer of Hamilton Truck Service since he
started in the early 1980s. When the owner heard what happened, he called Roger
into his office.
"I know you lost a lot of money," the owner told Roger. "If
anything goes wrong with your truck, you'll need to keep it running. Just come
in here and we'll fix it. When you have money you can pay your bills."
Friends and family saw to it that the Perrys weren't going without, and Roger
credits those acts of kindness with restoring his faith.
"If I could turn time back I would definitely avoid getting caught in
that [the Norris bankruptcy], but it did give me faith in people - that they'll
come and help you when you need help. I was at the receiving end, and it was
very humbling - but it was a very good feeling too," Roger says.
He'd only been without work for about two weeks, but the loss of income coupled
with the $18,000 loss hit the family hard. Next, Roger joined a small company
called TH Schneider Limited, based in Breslau, Ont. For the next two years he
would once again prove his mettle, digging himself out of the hole he'd been
Despite the challenges of getting back on his feet, Roger still managed to
earn a nomination for the 2004 Highway Star of the year Award. René Robert
got the nod, but Roger did finish in the top 10.
Christine Spencer of TH Schneider says when she first heard about the Highway
Star of the Year Award, she immediately thought to nominate Roger Perry. She
referred to Roger as a true family man whose interest in humanity extends far
beyond his own family. He's the driver customers request most frequently, she
"He's home for dinner every evening, yet still manages to get his work
done on time, and his record at TH Schneider is unblemished." Spencer says.
"He's an outstanding person - honest, loyal, hardworking. He's so good
at his job and at managing his family life, I can't for the life of me imagine
how he does it."
Fresh Air Fund
For roughly the past nine years Roger and his family have been involved with
the Fresh Air Fund, a program that brings inner-city kids from New York City,
and cities in 12 other states, as well as the Niagara Peninsula, to more rural
places for a summer holiday. The idea is to get these kids into families all
over the countryside so that they can experience what life is like outside a
city. They can just have some other experiences to open their eyes to what else
is out there besides their cement buildings, explains Roger.
It was Roger's parents who provided his first exposure to the Fresh Air Fund
by sponsoring an inner-city child when he was young. The positive experiences
he had getting to know that other child prompted him to follow the same path
as an adult.
"It's worth it," Roger says, "To see these guys grow up, and
to try to make an impact in their lives, to try to be a good role model for
Bert, the boy they host now, has been visiting them for the past seven summers.
Roger calls him their "summer child". Bert usually stays for two weeks
and Roger tries his best to plan his vacation around the visit. "He doesn't
know what it's like to have a dad at home", explains Roger. "I don't
believe he's ever called anyone but me, dad."
The program offers the kids the chance to see that there are people who have
good family lives, and it exposes them to career opportunities they might not
The organization brings the kids up to Canada by bus, and returns them home
again. Roger's wife Katherine - an education assistant with the local Catholic
school board - volunteers her time for the program and sits as chairperson for
their area, helping interview families and matching kids to those families.
Roger absorbs the entire cost of Bert's visit.
In March of 2004, Roger decided that it was time to take the next step in his
trucking career - independence. Although he liked working with TH Schneider,
it was the lure of independence itself that he could no longer resist. This
time the parting of ways was more amicable.
"Tom Schneider was disappointed when I announced that I was leaving,"
Roger notes. "But he shook my hand and wished me the best. Tom is a good,
Starting up as an independent meant making a lot of cold calls and knocking
on a lot of doors. Roger recalls that he often heard, "When we're busy,
we'll call you
" But within two weeks he had more work than he knew
what to do with. Friends and past clients call him now that they know he's on
his own, and other small fleets often call him for help. And there's enough
work in southern Ontario that he doesn't need to cross the border.
After 16 years in the trucking business - 15 as an owner-operator - Roger doesn't
deny that he's good at what he does, but he figures his edge has been his attitude.
He's also never lost sight of what's important to him. Tonight he's heading
home for dinner with his family, and for his son's birthday. He can have his
cake and eat it too.
Perry's Summer Son
Bert Lopez (top) lives in the Bronx, New York, 50 weeks of the year. For
the past seven years, Bert has been a guest of the Perry family in Beamsville,
Ont. for two weeks during the summer. He's really become more a part of
the family than a guest.
Swimming, biking, and fishing are high on the 17-year-old's list of favorite
things to do while he's here. He rides in the truck with Roger Perry occasionally,
and sometimes the whole gang takes off to a rented cottage for a week.
The biggest difference between Beamsville and the Bronx, Bert notes,
is the quiet. "No fire trucks, no police," he says. "People
are always fighting and arguing." Even with three other boys in the
house, it's a definite improvement. He's become quite close to the three
Perry boys, having grown up with them in a real way, and plans are in
the works to get Bert back to Beamsville for Christmas.
He'll be returning to the eighth grade at the end of summer - hoping
to make quarterback on the middle school football squad - and he'll be
taking back some valuable memories thanks to the generosity of Roger Perry
and his family.