“I got you.”
That was Rich Perez’s catch phrase, and if you were lucky enough to know Perez and he said those words in your direction, you were in for something great.
“Whatever you needed, he would find a way to come through in a bigger way than what you could ever ask for,” said Randy Hahn, the longtime San Jose Sharks play-by-play announcer and a friend of Perez, who died on April 28 due to complications from encephalitis. He was 64. “From a professional standpoint as a colleague working with the team, Rich always had a smile on his face and some pep in his step. He was very enthusiastic about what he did, was always positive and there was never a moment of negativity with Rich. His enthusiasm for the job and enthusiasm for working with the people here will be remembered.”
As a long-time usher and mail-room coordinator with the Sharks, Perez, who lived in Gilroy, got to know the players and their families well. Bobby Vasquez, one of Perez’s closest nephews, said players often tapped Perez with their hockey sticks before going on the ice. Perez’s gregarious personality and passion for his job endeared him to countless people.
“He just had that touch, that it (factor),” Vasquez said. “He’d walk into a room, and I don’t know how to explain it only to say that people (gravitated) toward him.”
Vasquez said Perez had no major health issues prior to being hospitalized on April 2 and tested negative for the coronavirus. He had been on a ventilator before dying of encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain often caused by an infection.
A beloved member of the San Jose Sharks organization—he worked there from 1993 to March of this year—Perez won’t soon be forgotten. How else to explain the fact that approximately 250 people logged in for a tribute video the Sharks organized via Zoom on April 29, with Hahn serving as the moderator.
Past or current Sharks employees along with players and former players and members of the organization had a chance to express their feelings and share some memories on the Zoom teleconference call, which left Perez’s family members and relatives in tears.
Vasquez watched the video with five members of the family on May 3 and was blown away with the heartfelt emotion and responses directed toward Perez. Although Vasquez knew his uncle was loved, he couldn’t quite grasp the magnitude of the impact that Perez had on others until he watched the video.
“We were all silent, and no one said a word for an hour,” Vasquez said. “But everyone was crying (with tears of joy). Just being able to watch that tribute video was mesmerizing.”
Watching the video was a nice respite for Vasquez, who was two years younger than Perez despite being one of Perez’s nephews. Due to the small age difference, Vasquez always viewed Perez as a close brother. The two lived in the same house until Vasquez was 7 years old, and as recently as five years go, Vasquez said many people thought the two were brothers.
Perez was often referred to as The Mayor, but perhaps Mr. Charismatic might have been something more appropriate. Perez’s vast popularity extended to seemingly every sphere of life and across all age groups. Hahn, whose relationship with Perez spanned approximately 25 years, said the Zoom call came closest to encapsulating Perez’s impact he had on others.
Two notable former members of the Sharks organization—Bryan Marchment and Drew Remenda—were on the call along with several dozens of other workers and former workers in the organization.
“You had employees who are in their 50s and 60s reminiscing about Rich, and the youngest Sharks employees who are in their early 20s working here who knew him for just six months expressing their love and fondness of Rich,” Hahn said. “How many of us can say we touched and bridged generations from the 20-somethings to the old geezers like us in our 60s.”
Vasquez was continually amazed that whenever he went to a sports or entertainment event, Perez could make him feel like he was a VIP member.
Years ago, the two went to a Rolling Stones concert at the Oakland Coliseum, and what happened at the parking entrance blew Vasquez away.
“We got to the front and Rich would identify himself,” Vasquez said. “A guy gets on his mic and tells everyone to stop all cars going into the Coliseum. He tells us to follow those guys with the lights, and we drove all the way down to the players’ parking lot. It was ridiculously amazing that they stopped all traffic for a time for him.”
Vasquez said he and Perez attended the AT&T Pro-Am “probably 20 of the last 30 years,” and one moment stood out.
“One time my wife was with us and Rich asks, ‘Hey, do you want to meet Wayne Gretzky? I just saw him in the lodge,'” Vasquez said. “They had security there of course and were only letting certain people in. Rich goes to the guard and asks, ‘Can you get Wayne?’ The security guard goes, ‘Wayne who? Yeah, right.’ Rich then says, ‘Just tell him Rich is out here.’ The guard goes inside and within 10 seconds here comes Wayne Gretzky, who yells, ‘Rich!’ That was just ridiculous.”
Hahn and Perez had a yearly tradition where they gathered with a large group of people at 8am on the Friday of the Gilroy Garlic Festival before heading to Christmas Hill Park at 11.
“Walking around the Garlic Festival with Rich Perez, you get an idea of how many people he knew,” Hahn said. “When he was walking around, he seemed like a mayor who had the highest approval rating. Rich figured out how to enjoy his job, but he also was very proud of his background, heritage and the fact he lived in Gilroy.”
Perez was the 14th of 15 children, and is survived by 11 siblings. A GoFundMe page created in Perez’s honor nearly quadrupled the $20,000 goal amount. A note on the page said the remaining balance will go toward a newly named Rich Perez Memorial Fund.