Phenix City businessman C. Vance Perkins, who used a wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis, became an advocate for the disabled and served as an Olympic Torch bearer in 1996, died Tuesday at Columbus' Muscogee Manor and Rehabilitation Center, according to a notice from Striffler-Hamby Mortuary. He was 62.
Perkins owned The Record Keeper, which stored office files for other businesses. He was diagnosed with MS in 1985. By 1996, he could hardly walk farther than 25 feet without help, and had only limited use of his right hand. It didn't stop him from carrying the Olympic Torch, though he used a motorized scooter.
"I don't think of it as being that inspirational, but I guess it can be," he told a reporter that year. "There are people who are in wheelchairs who inspire me and people who are not in wheelchairs who inspire me."
But he wanted people in wheelchairs to feel as much a part of society as everyone else. In another interview on bearing the torch, he said: "Even though I am disabled, I can participate in community activities, and carrying the torch illustrates all that I can do and achieve."
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He made that point clear during a visit to students at Phenix City's Westview Elementary School: "I can't run. I can't jump. But still, I was chosen," he said of the torch relay. "Even though I'm in a wheelchair, it didn't stop me from being chosen."
In 1997, he was appointed to an Americans with Disabilities Act committee after a Phenix City official told a 10-year-old girl with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis that she could not ride her tricycle on Idle Hour Park's paved trail. The child needed the tricycle to get around.
"I think there should be some sensitivity training," Perkins told a reporter, recounting his being pulled over once by a police officer:
"He said, 'Get out of the car,' and I told him I couldn't," Perkins said, chuckling. "I told him why, and asked him if he was willing to help me stand up."
The nerve disease from which he suffered never quelled his spirit, said Howard Foxworth, who managed Perkins' business.
"He had a really optimistic outlook on life," Foxworth said. "He didn't let his problems affect him that much. He always greeted people with a good smile, always had an attitude that he could accomplish what he needed to, and he did very well."
A memorial service will be 2 p.m. Saturday at Columbus' First Baptist Church.