Verna Johnson Perkins, the widow of Kentucky Congressman Carl D. Perkins, died Thursday at St. Joseph Hospital in Lexington. She was 93.
Like her late husband, Verna Johnson was a native of Knott County. She grew up in Mousie, and in her younger years, she showed horses and was known for her equestrian talents, said Glenna Martin, a niece who lives in Richmond.
"I can remember her taking me for a ride when I was just a little kid, and oh, I thought that was something else," said Martin, now 69. "I guess I was a little nervous, but she made me relax quickly because she had such control of the horse."
Martin said Mrs. Perkins probably met Carl Perkins in the late 1930s or early 1940s, when he was a lawyer in Hindman, working as a commonwealth's attorney and county attorney.
"She considered him quite a catch," Martin said.
Carl Perkins was a congressman from 1949 until his death of a heart attack in 1984. Mrs. Perkins initially worked in her husband's Washington, D.C., office without pay.
"She said she got tired of that, so she started teaching at an elementary school in southeast Washington, a predominantly black school," Martin said. "She taught 30 years or more there.
"She said being a teacher ... made her a better person," Martin said. "She wasn't just Carl Perkins' wife. She had a life and career of her own.
"You know congressmen are busy and away from home so much and campaigning so much, so I think that was important for her to have her own career," Martin said. "She loved her job and she loved her kids. I remember her saying it wasn't always easy teaching in an inner-city school, but it was a very positive experience for her."
During his years in Congress, Carl Perkins was known as an advocate for federal social-welfare programs and for federal legislation to improve safety in coal mines. Former National Education Association president Mary Hatwood Futrell said Carl Perkins was "the father of virtually every postwar federal education program."
Ron Daley, former publisher of the Troublesome Creek Times newspaper in Hindman — and now senior director of institutional advancement at Hazard Community and Technical College — said Mrs. Perkins probably played an important role in any education legislation crafted and shepherded by her husband.
Whereas Carl Perkins "understood rural education, she always kept him informed on the needs of urban schools," Daley said.
The Perkinses had one son, Chris Perkins, who succeeded his father in the U.S. House of Representatives. Chris Perkins served in the House from 1984 to 1992, and he later was ordained as a minister. He will officiate at his mother's funeral.
Shortly after Carl Perkins died, an endowment was created in his and his wife's names at Hindman Settlement School, a regional cultural and educational center. The school traces its history to 1902, when it was created to provide education in Knott County when a public school system had not been formed. The endowment continues to grow.
In her latter years, Mrs. Perkins lived at The Lafayette, a senior living center in Lexington.
Visitation will be 1 p.m. Tuesday at Hindman Funeral Services Chapel in Hindman. Funeral will be 2 p.m. Tuesday at the funeral home.
Burial will be in Mountain Memory Gardens in Hindman.