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Thread: An outdoor icon

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2001
    Wateree, South Carolina

    Default An outdoor icon

    Leigh Perkins, Who Built Orvis Into a Lifestyle Brand, Dies at 93
    In 28 years at the company’s helm, he turned a small mail-order fishing tackle shop into a sporting brand with stores all over the country.

    By Brian Gallagher

    Updated May 17, 2021
    Leigh H. Perkins, who built Orvis from a modest mail-order fishing tackle shop in Manchester, Vt., into one of America’s largest and most distinctive sporting lifestyle brands, with stores all over the country, died on May 7 at his home in Monticello, Fla. He was 93.

    The cause was complications of a fall, said his grandson Simon Perkins, who now runs the company.

    Founded in 1856 by Charles F. Orvis, the company is the oldest mail-order business in the United States. It was sending out catalogs before the Civil War and predated Sears, Roebuck by more than 20 years.

    When Mr. Perkins bought Orvis for $400,000 in 1965, the company had 20 employees and $500,000 in annual sales. When he stepped down 27 years later, in 1992 — turning the company over to his sons — Orvis had more than 700 employees and sales of $90 million a year. Since then, Simon Perkins said, annual sales have quadrupled, and more than 2,000 people work for the company, which has a flagship store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

    Leigh Perkins was a model of his own ideal customer, hunting and fishing more than 250 days a year and traveling to places like Iceland, Argentina, Botswana and Wyoming’s Star Valley, where he owned land with a trout stream running through it.

    “Orvis sold more than tweed jackets and fishing rods. It sold a way of life, and it made sense to me that the boss was living that life,” Mr. Perkins said in his 1999 book, “A Sportsman’s Life: How I Built Orvis by Mixing Business and Sport,” written with Geoffrey Norman.

    “I never had to worry about taking time off to do what I really wanted to do, because I didn’t think in terms of vacations or time off,” he wrote. “I never felt guilty when I was off shooting ducks or fishing for tarpon, and never felt like I should’ve been back in the office going through paperwork.”

    Leigh Haskell Perkins was born on Nov. 27, 1927, into a wealthy family in Cleveland. His father, Ralph Perkins, was chairman of a manufacturing firm. Hay fever kept Leigh from joining his father on his favorite pastime, horseback riding, so he learned to fish and hunt from his mother, Katharine (Haskell) Perkins, whom he called “one of the finest wing shots I have ever known.”

    Together, mother and son would cast for Atlantic salmon on Canada’s storied Restigouche River and stalk quail among the longleaf pines and live oaks of the family’s vacation property in northern Florida.

    After getting kicked out of boarding school for skipping class to fish, Mr. Perkins attended Williams College in Massachusetts. While fishing one weekend, he stopped into the Orvis store and bought a rod. He was impressed by the reliability of Orvis’s product.

    Shortly after graduating in 1950, he married Mary Hammerly. He spent the next 15 years in the mining and metal industries, coming into his own as a businessman after taking a Dale Carnegie course, while continuing to fish and hunt as often as he could. By the mid-1960s, he had amassed $200,000 in savings and went looking for a company to buy.

    Remembering the Orvis rod from his Williams days, he called Orvis’s owner at the time, Dudley Corkran, who had bought the company in 1939. After nine months of negotiating, and with the help of a $200,000 loan, he struck a deal. “Where I had dreamed of working as a college boy was now mine,” Mr. Perkins said in his book.

    Shortly afterward, he opened the Orvis fly-fishing school in Vermont, thought to be the first of its kind in the United States. The idea was both to democratize the world of fly casting and to build a customer base.

    As Simon Perkins recalled in a phone interview, “The way he said it to me was: It was a way for fly fishing and the outdoors to be accessible to people beyond just those who are lucky enough to be born into it.”

    Leigh Perkins soon pioneered the sharing of mail order lists, trading customers’ names with other outdoor brands like L.L. Bean and Eddie Bauer.

    “I took over just as credit cards and delivery services like UPS, and a bit later, FedEx, were reshaping the specialty catalog scene,” he wrote in The New York Times in 2003. “I got into the business at exactly the right time.”

    In his book, Mr. Perkins said he had missed only two weekends of hunting during bird season: when he was getting married, and when he was recovering from polio. In the summer he would often take an hour off work to cast flies in the Battenkill River, which ran through his backyard in Vermont.

    In the 1980s, Orvis expanded beyond waders and shotguns to offer women’s apparel and lifestyle items. The catalog also included etched whiskey tumblers, telephones shaped like duck decoys, and even fatwood kindling, inspired by the trees on Mr. Perkins’s Florida property.

    Dog beds were particularly popular, as were weatherproof jackets from the English apparel maker Barbour, which became de rigueur foul-weather wear for white-collar workers in Midtown Manhattan. Some die-hard sporting customers complained, but the business continued to grow.

    Mr. Perkins insisted on conservationism as a company value, donating to wildlife organizations before such practices were widespread.

    “It’s the right thing to do, and it’s also good business,” Simon Perkins said. “If people don’t have places to fish or hunt, you don’t have much of a future in the world of trying to sell fly fishing stuff.”

    In addition to his grandson Simon, Mr. Perkins is survived by his third wife, Anne (Ireland) Perkins; three children from his first marriage, Leigh Jr. (who goes by Perk), David and Molly Perkins; a daughter, Melissa McAvoy, from his second marriage, to Romi Myers; three stepchildren, Penny Mesic, Annie Ireland and Jamie Ireland; 10 other grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. A son from his first marriage, Ralph, died in 1969.

    According to his son Perk, fishing was not a competitive pursuit but rather a restorative one for his father. Even into his 90s, Mr. Perkins still trundled down to the Battenkill on summer evenings — with a rod and a cocktail — to cast for trout as the sun went down.

    “There is only one reason in the world to go fishing: to enjoy yourself,” he told The Times in 1992. “Anything that detracts from enjoying yourself is to be avoided.”

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2009


    That was a good read. Thanks

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2011


    Many good quotes in there

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2004


    Thanks for posting. I met his son Perk at the Charlotte store 2 years ago and we talked about fishing for about 20 minutes. I had no idea who he was until one of the employess told me later.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Sep 2002


    Just ordered his book. Looks to be good.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    united states of america


    I'm sure his family is sad orvis

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2005


    I still got a original ORVIS spinning reel at least 60 years old.
    Gettin old is for pussies! AND MY NEW TRUE people say like Capt. Tom >>>>>>>>>/
    "Wow, often imitated but never duplicated. No one can do it like the master. My hat is off to you DRDUCK!"

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2005


    Quote Originally Posted by Sportin' Woodies View Post
    I'm sure his family is sad orvis
    Quote Originally Posted by Mars Bluff View Post
    Only thing we need to be wearing in this country are ass whippings & condoms. That'll clear up half our issues.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Gobbler's Knob, GA/ Bamberg,SC


    God speed to a good man. Important benefactor to many causes he and (we) hold dear. He often quoted Aldo Leopold " man only cares about things he knows".

    The Orvis foundation has donated over $20MM to various outdoor conservation organizations - most notably the Bonefish and Tarpon foundation - Leigh Perkins loved him some fly fishing for Tarpon. He put his money where his heart and passions were.
    F**K Cancer

    Just Damn.


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