Perry A. Chapdelaine, Sr.
The Arthritis Trust of America
February 06, 1925 – November 24, 2015
by Perry A. Chapdelaine, Jr., M.D., M.S.P.H.
You may know Perry Chapdelaine, Sr. from his early and frequent contributions to the medical journal Townsend Letter.
You may recognize him as a science fiction writer, and certainly he pursued that career with gusto until laid low by rheumatoid arthritis (for a short time) in the early 1980s.
But then, there is a lot you don’t know about his extraordinarily fertile mind, and his energetically long life – filled with more twists and turns than a mystery novel. How his personal mission evolved into promoting functional medicine (aka: integrative or complementary alternative medicine) through his non-profit foundation (The Arthritis Trust of America, aka: The Rheumatoid Disease Foundation) itself requires some background. (Quoted statements herein are Perry’s unless noted).
“At age six I read my first book, Samuel Langhorne Clemens’ Tom Sawyer, and a little later, my second, his Huckleberry Finn. Right then and there I wanted to be a writer, though I wasn’t sufficiently mature to know so for about 40 more years.”
During the Great Depression, Perry read every science fiction pulp magazine he could put his hands on. “I’d had several expensive (25 cents each) science fiction pulp magazines torn up by my study-hall monitor just because their covers had thinly clad females over a background of rocketships and spaceguns. You can nowadays find those exact same stories in hardcover bindings in virtually every high school and college library in the United States – probably the world – not to mention their stolen story lines in the hugest box-office motion picture productions. Usually the scantily clad females are left off these high school library hardcovers for some reason, but nevermind: they really had nothing to do with the stories inside the pulp covers.”
Perry became involved with what writer and Editor John W. Campbell, Jr. revealed in a non-fiction article in Astounding Science Fiction in 1949 as L. Ron Hubbard’s “Dianetics®” described then as “a new and modern science of mental health.” Hubbard coined the word “Dianetics®” from Greek words meaning “through the mind.” One of the appeals of Dianetics® stemmed from the idea of a “clear,” which “was, simply, a person who had released all stored physical pain and painful emotion that had been acquired throughout the life-time of the individual.” There was not, at the time, the distinction made now (by Scientology®) “between MEST Clear, a Theta Clear, and a Cleared Theta Clear, along with all attendant characteristics, as now exists. There was only ‘clear.’”
Graduating from Iowa State Teachers College in 1947 with a major in mathematics (minors in chemistry, physics and psychology), he earned his master’s degree in mathematics from George Peabody College for Teachers in 1948, teaching mathematics the next two years at his college alma mater and at Monroe Junior High School in Mason City, Iowa.
In 1950 Perry “earned the then coveted Hubbard Dianetic® Auditor’s Certificate” in Elizabeth, NJ and in 1951 L. Ron Hubbard hired him to work “directly for him and also under the Director of Processing and my friend, Ross Lamoreaux, PhD (psychology), at the Hubbard Dianetic® Institute” processing “pre-clears as an auditor. Because of my degrees in mathematics Hubbard had hired me to produce axioms and logics for Dianetics®. After some effort, I was not able to do this satisfactorily, and told him so. I did suggest, and he did accept, the definition of definitions known in philosophy as intentional, extensional and operational definitions, which are still, this day, found in the axioms, postulates, and logics.”
He began auditing a toy inventor (who invented the Easy Bake Oven™, for instance) named Ronald B. Howes in 1951. “I drew on Hubbard’s lectures, my own experiences with my preclears, my readings and observations of Hubbard, and I began processing – auditing – Howes from the very first inception of meeting.” On January 20, 1952 Hubbard and others credited Perry with auditing and facilitating the first “clear,” as understood at the time, in Ronald Howes.
By the mid-1950’s, until the 1980’s, Perry was out of Dianetics® (which evolved into Scientology®).
Perry’s career in the 1950’s and early 1960’s involved his talents in mathematics, computers, and system analysis. He worked at first as a civilian in Mobile, Alabama in the Air Material Area (US Air Force supply and aircraft repair depot) and switched to a different unit while there as a psychometrist and systems analyst “whose goals were to pull the US Air Force logistics systems out from bulky, costly, time-consuming punch cards to electronic computers”; worked for Western Electric’s North Carolina military works (where he “helped engineers identify critical variables in the production of what was then new technology, printed circuit boards. I also helped to identify variables in the automatic deposition of gold on reed switches developed for the army’s first phase Nike-Zeus anti-missile missile”); worked in Dayton, Ohio during the Kennedy administration as he returned to the Air Force Air Material Command, (developing computer programs to “allow statistical evaluation of aircraft and ground support failed items worldwide,” adding to his reputation as someone able to “solve problems of data reliability”); worked a short time for the Department of Agriculture in New Orleans (tasked with applying “quality control techniques on the data from their hundreds of thousands of forms submitted by farmers”); and (as I recall) worked for the US Navy in San Diego as a high-ranking civilian involved with computerized logistics in worldwide Command and Control.
Around 1964 Perry worked as a private consultant for computer system development while teaching mathematics at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama at night.
After many challenging adventures moving around the country with their ten children, Perry and his first wife, Ruby, finally settled on a four-plus acre farm in the countryside near Nashville, Tennessee in July 1965. After a year teaching mathematics at Father Ryan High School, in 1966 he joined the faculty at Tennessee A&I State University (now Tennessee State University) and the University of Tennessee (both in Nashville). At Tennessee State University, as Senior Project Director, Perry administered a half-million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation, obtained with Stanford’s Patrick Suppes, PhD in one of the very earliest applications of computers to the problem of student learning.
While teaching full-time at these two universities, he found himself “reviewing mathematics manuscripts for Barnes & Noble and McGraw-Hill, doing chores on a farm, and scratching my head for some other means of making more money so my tribe wouldn’t starve. That’s when the great idea came along to acknowledge my writing weaknesses and embed those weaknesses in a science fiction story, ‘To Serve the Masters.’
“That first-of-my-whole-life-completely-made-up-written story – stemming all the way back to when I decided to be a writer, but didn’t know it, at age six – sold at once to the science fiction editor, Frederick Pohl of IF magazine.
“The very next story also sold – to John W. Campbell, Jr. in Analog: Science Fact or Fiction magazine. [“Initial Contact”]
“I was hooked! At last I was aware of knowing that I wanted to be a writer!”
And, write he did. Several novellas and short stories appeared in IF and Analog during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. His first novel, Swampworld West, was published in England and then translated and published in Italy. Two other novels followed (Spork of the Ayor and The Laughing Terran).
In the early 1950’s, a mutual friend and science fiction writer, Robert Moore Williams, introduced Perry to Robert Heinlein in his isolated mountain home. As Perry told the story, “We sat together for some time talking and Heinlein asked us both, ‘Have you ever read a science fiction story written around the Tarzan theme?’ Neither Robert Moore Williams nor I had, so we both shook our heads, ‘No.’ Keep in mind that this was asked during the days when one could and often did read everything in the genre. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Heinlein. From that day forward for several years to come I looked forward to reading his story based on the Tarzan theme, where a human is raised in a thoroughly alien environment on another planet. I was absolutely shocked and dismayed when his Stranger in a Strange Land came out. It was obviously the Tarzan theme, but written by a totally new Heinlein, a story that would appeal to the then hippie crowd.” Years later, Perry tried his own hand at the Tarzan theme. [Spork of the Ayor]
One of the earliest members of the SFWA – Science Fiction Writers of America – Perry maintained his membership until the end of his life. He met early on a too-long-to-list roster of science fiction writers. Counted among his friends were many of the earliest and founding members of the SF genre: John W. Campbell, Jr., L. Ron Hubbard, A. E. van Vogt and his wife, E. Mayne (Hull) van Vogt, Robert Moore Williams, George Hay and Chris Evans, PhD (both from England), fan Forest J. Ackerman, Piers Anthony Jacob, and Charles L. Fontenay, among others.
Perry was guest speaker at a large science fiction convention in Chattanooga, Tennessee during this period.
Also, during the early to mid-1970’s, Perry approached a fellow church member (a television news director and Billboard bureau chief) “with the idea of forming a publishing company specializing in the biographies of country music artists.” The two became friends and began signing up country music artists with the intent to publish their biographies. Then they “learned that our partnered lawyer tried to steal the business from both of us.” They decided to halt their efforts, rather than be associated with the crooked attorney. Perry formed friendships with several country music artists during this time.
His science fiction career came to a screeching halt during the latter 1970’s after his “galloping rheumatoid arthritis,” as his doctor termed it, progressed until his fingers were curling and he could no longer type, nor play the piano, without excruciating pain.
This “terrible affliction started during a period of extreme stress. I was teaching mathematics full-time at two universities, one all black and the other all white. In fact, I was the only integrated faculty member on both staffs. This was during an intense integration battle over power and turf between black and white administrators and overly-active students. Interestingly, the two University Presidents obeyed the Federal judge’s orders to ‘cooperate’ by simultaneously and illegally firing their first and only integrated faculty member – me!” That was in 1972.
He wrote a quarter-million word fictionalized account of what transpired during those five long years called Hot Buttered Soul! He sued the state school that illegally fired him (despite tenure), and years later had the satisfaction of seeing the US Supreme Court uphold the lower federal court’s ruling in his favor.
Then, from nowhere, rheumatoid arthritis afflicted Perry. “The good Lord wanted me to have crippling rheumatoid disease so I could learn how depressing and painful the condition is. Never to be without pain! Always dependent upon drugs! Joints curling up and twisting beyond belief! Ever-increasing separation from friends and loved ones!
“Guess he also wanted me to find the solution to this great and painful crippler!”
A series of synchronicities (some would say, “The Lord works in mysterious ways”) led Perry to a medical doctor, Jack Blount, in Mississippi, who had cured himself of lifelong rheumatoid arthritis after learning of a treatment developed by Professor Roger Wyburn-Mason, MD, PhD in England. Perry visited Dr. Blount and the totally stopped the arthritis after six weeks of treatment using the correct dose of metronidazole (an antiparasitic and antibacterial drug).
In 1982, along with a well-known physician, Gus Prosch (who had the largest complementary-alternative medicine practice in the southeast US, and whom Dr. Blount likewise cured of arthritis, Dr. Robert Bingham (a pioneer in arthritis orthopedic surgery who helped establish the Sister Kenny Poliomyelitis Hospital in California in 1950), Dr. Paul Pybus of South Africa (friend and student of Wyburn-Mason), and Dr. Blount, Perry formed a non-profit foundation, The Roger Wyburn-Mason and Jack M. Blount Foundation for the Eradication of Rheumatoid Disease (aka: The Arthritis Trust of America or The Rheumatoid Disease Foundation, found at www.arthritistrust.org). Perry described the foundation as “dedicated to telling folks the various causes of arthritis and how to achieve wellness from these causes,” and then convinced over 300 open-minded physicians and scientists from the US and worldwide to join his foundation as doctors to whom he could consult or refer patients. Among these were several outstanding integrative medical doctors including such familiar names as doctors Terry Chappell, William Campbell Douglas III, Stephen Edelson, Charles Farr, Alan Gaby, Warren Levin, Joseph Mercola, Robert Rowen, John Trowbridge, Julian Whitaker, and Jonathan Wright. Perry spent the next three-and-a-half decades working to educate people as to the causes of, and remedies for, the crippling rheumatoid diseases.
To that end he wrote many articles and books for both lay and professional audiences under his name and under his pseudonym, Anthony di Fabio (his birth name). He asked for only modest pay for his full-time work as foundation director and deferred or gave up his pay in some of the leaner fund-raising years. He taught “how to get well” to whomever would listen, formed friendships with many of the leading complementary and alternative medicine doctors in the world, and kept an open mind toward any new modality that might bring relief of suffering to people.
His attitude matched that of his one-time friend and mentor, Editor John W. Campbell, Jr., who espoused the empirical truth of “does it work?” rather than the blind prejudices of the unthinking crowd who claim to know everything. Perry disliked the modern medical establishment, run by drug giants whom he felt displayed an ethic that permeated the entire medical industry. For Perry, if a method worked to stop or cure a disease, then the bellowing and dismissal of that method by entrenched medical establishment types – who actually neither investigated nor tried the method – was so-much ignorant hot air.
“Although so-called crippling, ‘incurable’ arthritis interrupted my science fiction writing non-career, almost 100% of my writings nowadays deal with the art-of-getting-well. It’s amazing to me how the Good Lord made me sick just to get me well so I could begin to explain to others how it’s done! All the things I’d been and experienced in my earlier life led up to this calling, providing me with intense motivation, a modicum of skill and certainly an abiding mission to reveal truth in medicine!”
He formed close friendships with doctors Blount, Prosch, Wyburn-Mason, and Pybus, all of whom helped Perry change the course of rheumatoid disease for the better for thousands of people.
From 1975 until 1985 Perry, his oldest son, Perry Jr., and English writer and Editor George Hay, edited a collection of letters (selected from many thousands) entitled, The John W. Campbell Letters, Volume 1, which revealed Campbell’s correspondence from the 1930’s to the 1970’s to science fiction writers, scientists, and fans as editor of Astounding (later Analog) Science Fiction, as well as the fantasy magazine, Unknown. Largely through these letters Campbell “nearly single-handedly formed the modern world of science fiction.” Although only released for several months, the book received a nomination for a Hugo Award. Perry himself edited a second book of letters, The John W. Campbell Letters with Isaac Asimov and A.E. van Vogt, Volume II. There were plans for further volumes, but there were not enough sales to fund more of the books that showcased the methods used by one of the last century’s geniuses to teach writers their craft.
During the 1970’s and into the early 1980’s, Perry established a music store and a land surveying business (working under registered land surveyors who reviewed and approved his work). When the state assistant attorney general defending the state university that illegally fired him (despite tenure) tried to stop Perry’s source of income, Perry himself argued his case before the five Tennessee State Supreme Court judges. He challenged “the constitutionality of the land surveyors’ licensing act.” A prior Appeals Court ruling had already called the surveyors’ licensing law illegal, but four of the judges ruled against him. On the other hand, one of the justices agreed with him!
During this period, along with his oldest son, Perry Jr., he started a book publishing, typesetting, and printing business.
In 1980 he became city manager for Fairview, Tennessee. Later that year, Perry obtained a contractor’s license and, while busy directing The Arthritis Trust, built houses with a close friend into the 1990’s.
Perry, though brilliant, remained a human being living during a particular age and culture and therefore subject to human flaws as are we all. Sometimes he mixed up a detail in a story, or got a date wrong. Or just forgot something. Around age nine or ten I asked for a “bb gun.” “When you turn fourteen I’ll get you one,” he told me. On my fourteenth birthday: no gun. “You promised I could have a bb gun when I turned fourteen,” I said. “I did?” he replied, and nothing more. But the next day, he presented me with my very own bb gun. Looking back, I realize he had a lot on his mind.
He raised his ten children with the strict discipline he learned from his step-father, and yet loved each of them and made many sacrifices in difficult times to keep his family together.
A man of principle, it often got him into trouble. Instead of going along with, or simply turning a blind eye to, crooked attorneys, dishonest state assistant attorneys general, or corrupt university administrators, Perry chose to shine a light on their activities. This lost him jobs and for a time impoverished him and his family. His stubborn ethics would not allow immoral activities to continue without his confronting them.
A “Renaissance Man” in the truest sense of the word, Perry had an indefatigable and curious mind. It meant, though, that Perry tended to juggle multiple projects simultaneously, usually, but not always, getting away with it. Or he abandoned an idea too quickly, moving on to his next great idea. Had he stuck to any one of his careers, unquestionably he would have made his mark as the top in his field. But then, that wouldn’t have been Perry.
An example of one of his inventions is worth noting. Once he asked a close electrician/mechanic friend to try something out for him. He carefully explained to his friend that he wanted him to connect a thin wire to a motor that spun very fast (having observed and deduced that a lawnmower blade didn’t need a large or sharp edge but did its work through speed). The friend said he would and a couple months later told Perry, “It didn’t work.” Perry forgot about it until about a year later when the friend said, “I could just kick myself!” “Why?” asked Perry. “Well, you know how you wanted me to try to make that cutter with a wire? I didn’t think it would work so I never did it.” The friend explained that something called “the weed-eater” had just appeared on the market. Perry forgave his friend’s judgment error and they remained good friends.
In fact, never jealous, Perry always bragged on the accomplishments of others as much as he showed pride in his own. He cultivated friendships from across the world, with men and women of disparate backgrounds and talents, always ready to share his own observations and suggestions to anyone who would listen to his experience and advice – not in competition but in a desire to help them excel in their chosen field.
He remained in excellent health until an automobile accident almost took his life at age 80. In fact, well into his late seventies he danced “jitterbug” (East or West Coast Swing) and other vigorous dances, always outlasting his lady partners who were less than half his age! He could have chosen dance instructor as a career, such were his dancing talents.
On October 20, 2015, after a major heart attack half-a-continent away from home, Perry spent two weeks in an intensive care unit on a ventilator, in-and-out of consciousness, fighting the fluid building in and around his lungs from a very weak heart, pneumonia, and acute kidney failure. At three months shy of ninety-one-years-old the doctors and nurses had no expectations that he would live and kept telling Perry’s wife, Mary Ann, and the many children who had rushed to his side, that “he’s lived a long life,” and “you should let him go.” They were reluctant to begin dialysis until we explained that our father had a sharp mind and was in the middle of a book with other projects lined up. Clearly, the doctors understood neither the strength of his spirit nor how stubborn a fighter he could be. We explained that since a chance existed for him to make it home – which was his wish, even if only to see his dog, Prince, once more and to die there – the doctors needed to give him that chance.
They removed his ventilator tube on day ten and he began dialysis at the same time. He insisted within a couple days on walking, with help, to the bathroom. Two ICU nurses who had cared for him even asked permission to see him – this living miracle. He transferred to the “step-down” unit a couple days later and within a week a caring and generous private pilot flew him for three hours in a small plane back toward Tennessee. Perry, miserable in the cold and cramped plane with his poor-functioning oxygen tank, decided instead to travel by van for nearly thirty hours with his wife and a son.
Back home, after two weeks of dialysis, he again contracted pneumonia and fluid around the lungs, staying in a local hospital ICU, this time without the ventilator. Conscious the entire time, Perry visited with his wife and all his children, even as he grew weaker with increasing pain. He told one of his distraught daughters, “It’s OK. Everybody has to die.”
On November 24, 2015, Perry left this world for his next great adventure.
As Perry wrote on another occasion, “Having faced death full-on several times in my life, and also having faced crippling, painful rheumatoid arthritis, I came to a universal truth – we are not so fearful of dying, as we are of living without compassion, hope, or being free of pain.”
This compassionate man – educator, author, clear-thinker, inventor, inspiration to those with crippling arthritis, and most of all, caring father – was the epitome of the teacher in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales:
He was of grave discourse,
Lending new weight to virtue by his speech;
And gladly would he learn,
And gladly teach.