Thursday, May 28

PITTSFIELD You might think that Paul Perachi — the teacher, coach, high school principal, attorney and juvenile court judge — had it all figured out at an early age.

Well, hate to burst that bubble.

"I didn't chart any of this," said Perachi, the city native who will turn 70 early in July and take a mandated retirement from his current role as "your honor."

The longtime youth advocate — he and former Boys' Club director Jim Mooney for decades provided a beautiful one-two punch that kept many of our city teens balanced, happy and mindful of the rights and wrongs of the world — will be missed greatly from his role on the bench, largely because the only thing about Perachi that is greater than his concern for young people is the wonderful and generous heart that beats within him.

But, like the man said, he didn't really figure so many of his wonderful achievement would or could ever have taken place.

He wanted to be a state trooper, just like his Dad, whom he idolized. That didn't happen, although he said he would have been a good one.

He drove a Coca-Cola truck for a year and decided that wasn't going to be the real thing. He went to play basketball at North Adams State College — a teachers' college — when, in fact, he wasn't sure if we wanted to be a teacher at all.

Still, coming out of the service, he spent half a year teaching fourth grade at Egremont School and thought that he might spend his career teaching at that level.

Perachi then was recruited to St. Joseph's High to teach, coach basketball, be a guidance counselor and attend to many other duties at the Maplewood Avenue campus. Ahhh, said Perachi, who thought this is where he might end up for the rest of his life.

But once again, it wasn't to be. He interviewed for the principal's job at Lenox High — he was barely 30 — just for the sole purpose of getting some interview experience. He was mentored by former Mount Greylock Principal Bill Clark, who would engage Perachi that summer in mock interviews.

Doing it for the experience? Maybe, but guess who got the job? It was Perachi, and he was there for almost 20 years.

He earned a law degree and spent many years representing youthful offenders. Being a judge? It never crossed his mind. But Gov. William Weld appointed him to that position in 1995.

Perachi said he's had good fortune in his life and has often been in the right place at the right time. That's good, because so many have benefited from his patience and wisdom. It's good to spread that kind of stuff around, and Perachi did.

"The real beauty," he said, "is that I always enjoyed going to work no matter what job I had at the time."

As someone who has kept troubled youth on his radar for five decade, when Perachi said that today's Pittsfield kids are about the same as yesterday's Pittsfield kids, well, you have to believe him. The difference, he said, are the circumstances in which they exist.

"Parenting has always been a tough job," he said. "I tell people it's a job you can get without taking a test or getting a license.

"My wife (Janet) and I have two children and five grandchildren. None of them came with a set of directions. But we both had good sets of parents and we learned from them."

That cycle, said Perachi, does not exist now. Or if it did, it's been broken.

Berkshire County, he said, had the highest influx of child abuse and neglect filings in the state last year. He attributed that statistic to the fact that our social agencies here in the Berkshires do a fine job and are on top of matters.

Regardless, it's distressing to know that the more they dig, the more they find.

So, retirement looms and Perachi has been bitten by the photo bug. He likes taking pictures, so that guy behind the lens might be the former teacher, coach, attorney, principal and judge.

A final question. Does the judge get to keep the robe?

"I better," he said with a laugh. "I paid for it. They don't give you those."

Born at Hillcrest Hospital, the old one that used to be at the corner of Springside Avenue and North Street, Perachi has a lot of living left to do. He will find a way to contribute to the city — he always has and always will.

He's a Pittsfield original with a heart of gold.

Brian Sullivan is an Eagle editor and Pittsfield native.