Ex-budget director dies at 96

Ralph Perlman
Ralph Perlman

Ralph Perlman, a former longtime state government administrator, died Friday evening, according to his family.

Perlman, 96, served in state government for more than 40 years.

He died peacefully in the Butterfly Wing of Hospice of Baton Rouge, following a brief illness, his family said.

In 1966, Perlman joined the staff of former state Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, and later went on to serve as budget director under four governors. He ended his career as a special assistant for the University of Louisiana System.

“He treated every budget as though it was coming out of his own pocket,” said Sally Clausen, a former commissioner of higher education who worked with Perlman for years. “If I was running the state, I’d want Ralph Perlman watching my dollars.”

Jerry Perlman, an only child, described his father as “very smart” and devoted to both his work and family.

“He was very detail-oriented and he always had all the facts at his fingertips,” Jerry Perlman said. “He had a very retentive memory.”

Ralph Perlman was born in New York City, but found Louisiana by way of his service in the military during World War II.

He was stationed at Camp Van Dorn in Mississippi, and women from neighboring towns were bused in for a dance night with the officers.

“My father was Jewish, and one of the girls brought up on the bus was Jewish, so his commanding officer ordered him to dance with her,” Jerry Perlman said. “That was my mother. She lived in Baton Rouge most of her life.”

Ralph Perlman went on to marry Carol Herzberg, who died in 1981 from cancer. Ralph Perlman is survived by his second wife, Billie Perlman, whom he married in 1984.

As state budget director, Ralph Perlman developed the Office of State Group Insurance and oversaw the state’s $5 million investment in the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans.

Clausen said that when she started working in the state Division of Administration in 1983 as deputy commissioner, she sought out Ralph Perlman for guidance and advice. They developed a friendship and he affectionately referred to her as “goddaughter.”

When Clausen was the president of the University of Louisiana System, she asked Ralph Perlman to come work with her.

“In the first year, he saved me a million dollars from minor stuff,” Clausen said. “He was a magician in common sense.”

Clausen said the people Perlman trained throughout the years in state government will remember him with great respect for his honesty and diligence.

A memorial service honoring his life will be held at Rabenhorst East Funeral Home at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. The family will greet visitors beginning at 2 p.m. with service to follow.