Danville mayor sparks community discussion on death by suicide

By Mike Perros

Danville Mayor Mike Perros sparked a spirited Facebook discussion with a posting of his full-page ad in the weekend Advocate-Messenger that led many families to share personal stories on the sensitive subject of death by suicide.

As of press time Monday, 54 readers had posted comments to Perros’ personal Facebook page – some supporting his broaching the topic, others sharing stories of children and family members who took their own lives, and one who offered to contribute alongside Perros’ own $5,000 donation to support a community education program.

Perros, a partner with Encompass Financial Advisors, announced his donation to the Heart of Kentucky United Way to support local administration of QPR, a national support organization that offers 90-minute courses to equip community groups with three steps, “question, persuade and refer,” that could help save the lives of those in mental distress.

In the ad, Perros revealed the story of his own grandfather, who emigrated to Danville from the island of Crete in 1914, opened a downtown cafe in 1917, and, following a renovation in 1947, shot himself to death two days before its re-opening.

In a follow-up Facebook post Sunday, Perros quoted a QPR statistic that 2.5 times more people die by suicide than by homicide. Kathy Miles, coordinator of Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy, Inc., said 2020 statistics for local deaths by suicide are not yet available, but could be expected to be higher than previous years due to the stress of the pandemic.

“I’ve been amazed at the community response to the ad,” Perros said. “There are a lot of people hurting right now.” The text of his column is reprinted below.

From Mike Perros’ ad in the weekend Advocate-Messenger
In 1914, my grandfather and his brother snuck off the island of Crete at the beginning of World War I and made their way to Danville, Kentucky.

Three years later, my grandfather opened City Cafe in Danville. Though they continued to send money back to support their surviving family members on Crete, my grandfather never recovered from the guilt and the shame of leaving family behind while he made a good life for himself here.

In 1947, two days before my grandfather was preparing to re-open his newly renovated cafe, he placed the order for meat to serve the patrons of Danville, went home, sat down, and shot himself to death. His widow, my grandmother, moved out of the house and never went back.

My father was 25 years old and took over the restaurant, later re-naming it the Town House Restaurant, working in the food and hospitality business the rest of his life. His uncle, the brother who had emigrated to Danville, also died by suicide, perhaps due to deteriorating health.

I never knew my grandfather or his brother. My father and I never talked about why they took their own lives. I’ve certainly thought about this legacy and the fact there might be genetic factors in depression that could affect members of our family.

It has been a year since COVID-19 closed many businesses in Danville and wreaked havoc on too many households. Many of our fellow citizens are hurting. Many have succumbed to COVID and related illnesses – as well as to depression and suicide.

One thing I’ve learned is that you can know someone for years and not know the pain they’re experiencing. I’ve also learned there are things we can do to help: questions we can ask, hands we can hold, resources to which we can refer them.

That’s why I’m donating $5,000 and am coordinating with Heart of Kentucky United Way and other organizations to help administer assistance through a remarkable program called QPR, which you can read more about to the left. I hope you’ll take the 90-minute class as I will. Maybe we can save one life – or many. I’d like to think my grandfather would approve.