Several charities, including many local agencies, recently received donations totaling more than $5 million from the Cathy D. Perry Trust.
Cathy D. Perry loved dogs, especially Westies (West Highland Terriers) and Scotties (Scottish Terriers). She and her husband, Roger, owned pet food supply stores in the mid-West, and their son Brandon, grew up in the industry.
They couple opened their first Pet Food Superstore in 1986 and rapidly expanded. In the early ‘90s they changed the name of the business to Petzazz. By this time, they had 20 to 25 superstores, a corporate office, a large distribution center and well over 1,000 employees. In ’93, they expanded into Chicago, which was a market that PetSmart was entering at the same time. Brandon says they were preparing to go public with the company but PetSmart made an offer they couldn’t refuse and they sold the business.
In 1994, Roger and Cathy moved to Ocala and bought the Classic Acres horse farm, where they raised quarter horses, appaloosas and paints.
Brandon, who was in college at Ohio State University, took a position with PetSmart and moved to the corporate office in Phoenix, Arizona. After graduating from Arizona State University with a degree in business management, he moved to Ocala in 1996 to help his family.
Brandon and Diannah met in 2000. She had grown up with thoroughbreds and they shared a common interest in the breed. They bought a piece of the Classic Acres operation and lived there until 2003 when they started Paragon Farms and then moved to Lexington, Kentucky and bought Newgate Stud.
By this time, Cathy and Roger were divorced and she had bought the Hearthside estate on Fifth Street in Ocala, the former home of the Ray family, best known for helping develop the Silver Springs Attraction. Cathy enjoyed refurbishing Hearthside and traveling with her good friend Connie Brown, a fellow member of the Royal Dames for Cancer Research, Inc.
“She built this haven at Hearthside, and she would get up every morning and work out in her gym and then garden. She loved to shop. I think she really enjoyed her time with the Royal Dames ladies and spending a lot of time with her best friend Connie, like Thelma and Louise,” Diannah shares.
“We had a lot of good times together. I was in banking, in trusts and investments, and she was a customer. We became good friends,” says Brown. “We went to a lot of places. If we had a notion to go somewhere, we took off and went. Or we’d sit on her front porch and watch traffic go by and talk about anything and everything.”
Brown says her friend was “a very beautiful person and was very loving and giving to family and community. If someone was in need, she was there.”
At the end of 2014, Brandon and Diannah moved back to Ocala and opened Newgate Realty.
In 2017, Cathy was diagnosed with glioblastoma. She received treatment at Duke University, is a leading researcher in that form of aggressive brain cancer. She passed away on Feb. 1, 2020, at home in Ocala.
Cathy wanted a portion of her estate to be given to charity but did not cite specific entities. When Brandon and Diannah and the trustee began to talk about dispersing the funds, he says the fact that his parents made their money in the pet food industry played a role. He says his parents, to his knowledge, were the first company to allow pet adoptions inside pet stores.
“Now that is common, but back then it was cutting edge,” he offers. “And pets were always allowed in our stores. My mom always had dogs, had animals, so a lot of the charities we chose, not all of them, but a lot of them, had something to do with animals.”
In late July, 29 charities received in excess of $5 million from the Cathy D. Perry Trust, including the Humane Society of Marion County, Voices for Change Animal League (VOCAL), Marion Therapeutic Riding Association, Final Furlong, Horse Farms Forever, Sheltering Hands, Florida Thoroughbred Charities, Thoroughbred Charities of America and the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Foundation. Among the beneficiaries were the Royal Dames for Cancer Research, Interfaith Emergency Services, Kimberly’s Center for Child Protection, Hospice of Marion County, Junior League of Ocala and the Duke University Brain Tumor Cancer Center. OS