February 24, 1953 – November 10, 2023
Michael Thompson Perry of Perry-winkle Farm, in northern Chatham County, died on Nov. 10 after a 10-month struggle with pancreatic cancer. He will be remembered for his kind and caring nature, his empathetic soul, and his genuine love for his family and friends. Michael leaves behind his wife of 38 years, Catherine Jones; his son, Lawton Thompson Perry; his brother-in-law, Thomas Jones (Joan); and his sister-in-law, Christy Jones. He had several nieces and nephews Allyson Barr, Gene Groves, Greg Jones, Melissa Palmer and Samantha Kinninger. The Perry and Thompson families included cousins Lynn Petermann, Joan Jones, Stephanie Rivas, John Perry, John Thompson, Dicky Thompson, Marty Thompson, Suzanne Southard, Glenda Thacker, Scott Thompson and Tommy Thompson. Michael was preceded in death by his parents, Ben and Marguerite “Geet” Perry; and his brother, Sam Perry.
While in grade school, Michael’s family returned to his father’s hometown of Chapel Hill. Michael often reminisced about childhood memories of riding his bicycle all over Chapel Hill and Carrboro, visiting his grandfather “Bud” Perry at his barber shop on Franklin Street, and spending hours in the Intimate Bookstore. As he grew older, his mother would receive phone calls telling her that Michael had been caught climbing the town’s water tower (more than once). He talked about climbing the rafters of Carmichael Gymnasium while it was still under construction, breaking into Woollen Gym to play basketball with his buddies, and how they always knew how to sneak through a fence into Kenan Stadium to watch the football games. Growing up in Chapel Hill, Michael couldn’t help but become the Tar Heel fan(atic) that he was.
Though Michael would never brag about his days at Chapel Hill High School, his classmates often talked about his athletic endeavors in football, basketball and baseball, lettering in all three sports. Playing high school sports in the late 60s and early 70s in Chapel Hill meant that he was in the middle of the integration of Chapel Hill High School with Lincoln High School. He is remembered fondly for the genuine camaraderie he fostered with his new teammates.
While still in high school, Michael began apprenticing as a brick mason under the tutelage of his mentor, Don Sparrow. What began as a summer job grew into a lifelong career as one of Chapel Hill’s premier brick artisans. Contractors in the area always knew Michael would build foundations that were perfectly square and level. Michael built a masonry company of his own and many brick chimneys stand all over the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community as testament to his care and skill. When asked by a friend to help build a brick wood-fired bread oven, Michael soon became the “go-to guy” for all who dreamed about a pizza or bread oven in their backyards. His reputation earned commissions throughout the area and as far away as Kentucky. Wanting to have a “sample project” available to show prospective clients, Michael built an outdoor oven at home, which became the focal point of many pizza parties over the years.
Michael continued his masonry business while he and Cathy established Perry-winkle Farm, one of the first certified organic farms in the region. Michael and Cathy were founding members of the Fearrington Farmers’ Market starting in 1991 and then joined the Carrboro Farmers’ Market three years later. Their motto of “growing for their neighbors” earned them a loyal following for vegetables, cut flowers and poultry products. Eggs from Michael’s pastured hens became so popular that folks were always trying to gain inclusion on the farm’s highly coveted “egg list.”
Michael’s death leaves a giant hole in many parts of his community. Whether at his monthly book/dining club, at their “outfield corner” at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, at high school reunion committee meetings, or at the table in their front yard, he will be missed dearly. The family invites those who wish to make donations in Michael’s name to consider the SECU Jim & Betsy Bryan Hospice Home of UNC in Pittsboro. The staff there provided amazing care in his final days and the family hopes any donations will support the home’s much-needed work in the community. (Specify that you want your gift to go towards – M0440 or M5785)
A pot-luck celebration of Michael’s life will be held in the style of Perry-winkle Farm’s infamous July 4th gatherings at Rock Quarry Farm on December 10th from 1-4 p.m.