I’m at the age. That age where friends’ parents are aging and our conversations always include those inquiries - about care-taking, care-giving, frailty, illness and questions of "what can I do?" Most of my friends still have their parents – or at least one parent. I’m one of the few who has already learned that hard goodbye. With one particular friend, these conversations were all too frequent this last year. It's so hard to lose someone - even when expected. It's hard to lose someone who was just larger than life – even in his humble day to day life.
Today, we lost one of those men. Today, we lost Jerry Parr.
Jerry, or Mr. Parr (at least until I was in my 30’s), was dad to one of my oldest friends. She was a neighborhood friend, a school friend, an adult friend, a mom friend and now an old friend (and I mean that in the best possible way.) We have stories. We have stories that we laugh about and ones we have never told anyone. She was the first of my friends to have children – and seeing her girls as adults is astonishing to me. She is an awesome mom – and I’ve sought her advice more than once. Our families are in the background of our friendship. Families who knew us well, watched us grow. Parents we made fun of and then promptly grew up to emulate, whether we liked it or not.
Many call their dad a hero but my friend truly can. You see, her dad saved President Reagan’s life. On that fateful March day, Jerry pushed the President into the car and gave the directive to get to the hospital. I remember that day. The news; the fear of not knowing if Mr. Parr was okay. The discomfort of not knowing what to say to my friend. I remember the relief of finally knowing he was okay. Of course, my emotions were nothing compared to what his family went through.
But my real memories of Jerry are greater than what they show on the news or write in the paper. I have a clear memory of being at the house and watching him go to get eggs from the chicken coop. In a suit. Before he went to work protecting a President. Do you know what chickens smell like? And, that rooster - I believe he was the only one that liked that animal. They both shared a certain bravado. But what I remember most is how happy he was to be gathering those eggs. He had a smile on his face and perhaps a spring in his step.
I remember his laughter. I remember his stories. I remember him laughing at his own stories and jokes. One of my favorite memories is at the beach house with my friend, her husband and their two girls. Jerry announced his presence by arriving with a cooler full of…..a large snapping turtle found on the side of the road. He was thrilled and wanted to show his little granddaughters. His daughter, who shared his gift for succinct communication, was clear that that particular animal was not welcome in the house. She may have used the word “foul” to describe it. He was gleeful and just kept laughing. Always a tender heart, he ultimately released the beast into wood far outside the house. There was a massive storm that night, the lights went out. Oh the stories he shared over cold beer and crabs and candlelight.
I remember visiting when my own dad was ill. I was always made to feel so welcome in their home. These were friends that had been around so long they were like family. These last few years, I have relished every post, every old picture, every anecdote shared by his daughters. I read his books cover to cover.
Naturally, Mini-Me knows about my friend and her family. In fact, Mini bears an uncanny resemblance to her daughter (Mini saw her wedding pictures and declared her the most beautiful bride ever.) I told Mini-Me about Jerry, too. She was duly impressed with Jerry and secretly thrilled that her mom knew a real hero. I may have been cool for a second or two.
Last summer, when I took Mini-Me back to DC, we went to my friend’s house, we went to their beach house. Mini squealed a bit to be in a real hero’s house. To her, this humble, well loved and lived in beach house may as well have been a castle. I could hear his laughter in each room. Tonight, as I quietly sobbed at Jerry’s passing, Mini asked me what had happened. I told her that Mr. Parr had died. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “Mom, we lost a real hero.”
Yes, Mini, we did. We lost a hero to many – but a special family lost a husband, father and grandfather. Our hearts ache for them.
Oh the stories among the stars tonight.
Rest In Peace, Jerry. You were well loved. You will be well missed. May your memory always be for a blessing.
Jerry Studstill Parr
September 16, 1930 – October 9, 2015
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