December 7, 2002, Saturday, BC cycle
Forgotten stock account helps Tennessee man reunite homeless woman, family

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: Domestic News

LENGTH: 530 words

DATELINE: NASHVILLE, Tenn.

Stockbroker Michael Guess has worked downtown long enough to recognize a homeless person. He knew Alice Perley was one as she walked off the elevator into his office this week.

“She was just kind of unkempt,” Guess said Friday. “There’s a certain look.”

A meek woman with piercing eyes, the 48-year-old Perley told Guess she thought she had an investment account with his firm, A.G. Edwards & Sons.

But she didn’t know when or where. She said the account might be in another state.

A skeptical Guess invited Perley into his office and told her he’d look into it.

“She seemed kind of lost, so I decided to help her,” he said. He and a colleague offered her money, but she wouldn’t take it. That surprised him.

It surprised him even more when a fellow broker in Atlanta confirmed that Perley indeed had an account. Not only that, but her family in North Carolina had been looking for her for years. They’d even hired private investigators to help in the search.

“We kind of all in the back of our minds expected the worst,” said her sister-in-law, Shelby Perley, of Charlotte, N.C.

Kim Coggins, the Atlanta broker, knew the family and the situation.

“She’s there with you now?” he asked Guess in disbelief. “Oh, my gosh.”

Coggins immediately called the woman’s brother, Fred Perley, who the following day flew to Nashville to pick up his sister and bring her home. They were traveling Friday and unavailable for comment.

“This woman had been on the streets for years,” Guess said. “It’s a miracle that she didn’t die. It’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened in my life.”

Alice Perley, who earned a degree in chemistry and worked for AT&T for 12 years, had lived in Kentucky until her life fell apart, relatives said.

Around 1995, she stopped taking prescription anti-depressants and got in trouble with police in Memphis, Shelby Perley said. Fred Perley and another sibling went there to help her. They put her on a plane to see relatives in Newark, N.J. – but she never arrived.

As it turned out, she got off the plane in Nashville, stayed in the airport until authorities kicked her out and then roamed the streets for years, relatives said.

“A week of homelessness turned into a month, and a month into a year, and she just spiraled down and down,” Fred Perley told The Tennessean newspaper.

Her fortune started changing earlier this year when she was accused of causing a public disturbance and was sent to court.

Prosecutors agreed to move her case to mental health court, where a judge ordered her to see a psychiatrist. As a result, she began taking medication again and received temporary shelter. She even worked in a restaurant until it closed about a month ago.

“It’s just an incredible story,” said Mark Fishburn, the presiding judge at Davidson County’s mental health court, who issued an order allowing Fred Perley to take his sister home.

“She was just a lovely, sweet, gentle lady and I think she was one of the favorites of everybody in the court,” he said. “It’s just very heartwarming.”

For her family, it’s the best Christmas gift ever.

“The whole story, it kind of brings you chills,” Shelby Perley said.

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