Connoisseurs of fine wines are usually heavy-jowled, bloated men with pot bellies. But Rene Peroy, Harvard's fencing coach, cultivates an expert taste for wine along with a tip-top physical condition. Past sixty-five, he can fence with one student after another, leaving them limp with exhaustion, while he hardly breaks into a sweat.
A soft-spoken native of France, with eyes that pierce like a well-thrust foil, Peroy has amazed, taught, and endeared himself to Harvard fencers for the past twenty-three years. Student don't go to the Indoor Athletic Building just to fence, they go to fence with Peroy. If he coached high-jumping, they claim, they would switch to that. Modest as he is, Peroy is forced to admit that "when the boys found out I was retiring after this year, they started to lose interest in fencing."
Fencing has been Peroy's chief interest since his youth. Born and educated in Paris, he came to America in 1909 to teach the use of the sabre to American army officers. "They had to come three times a week, just like freshmen in Physical Training." He fought on the American foil team in the 1928 Olympics, and started coaching at Harvard the next year. Even his mechanical skills--he helped design and build the motor of Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis--have been useful in his life's sport. He designed the special practice mechanisms in the fencing room at the IAB. ("I had them patented, but everybody copied them anyway.")
Peroy in action is proof that a fencer, like a good bottle of Moselle, can improve with age. Fencing with his pupils, he shows the ease and grace of an expert. Keeping up a running patter of French-accented instructions, he catches their every mistake and makes his scores with a minimum of effort. His patience with novices--he will repeat a single fundamental movement ten times if necessary--comes from remembering his own initial awkwardness. "It took me two years before I even knew what I was doing," he remembers.
Peroy delights in making good fencers out of people who didn't know a sabre from an epee when they came to College. One freshman novice turned into an Olympic fencer. But good as they become, they rarely get a point off Peroy. "I always have a few tricks up my sleeve," he chuckles.
Peroy is uncertain about his plans after he leaves Harvard. He may live at his summer farm in Vermont, which he built himself "to keep in condition." Or he may dabble in engines again. But no matter what, he can retire to his foils and his wines leaving a generation of admiring students behind him.