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On June 25, 2013, the world of rowing lost a legend. Please share your reflections below.
As a former football player, shot putter and weightlifter who became disillusioned with Harvard midway through his sophomore year, Harry gave guidance support and a new home on the rowing team. I felt like I belonged, I felt like a member of a family. It rejuvenated my spirit and allowed me to recharge and re- engage Harvard. His positive influence carried me into HMS, thru HMS and beyond.
Harry you are the best coach I ever had! You will never be forgotten.
I first met Harry in the fall of 1957, when I was rowing, as he had four years earlier, on Penn’s Freshman Lightweight crew. Eight years later, when I went into Newell Boathouse, as the deadline for entering the first Head of the Charles was fast approaching and the field of eight-oared entries was depressingly thin, I found Harry in his upstairs corner office. At that time, with a few notable exceptions, most college coaches were sitting on their hands, not eager to risk their reputations in this new kind of “head” race, never before attempted in the U.S., where you couldn’t tell who was ahead or who was behind, until it was all over. I thrust a bunch of entry forms at him and asked him, as a personal favor, to sign them, putting as many Harvard crews in the regatta as he could (and not to worry about the entry fees). He just smiled at me and said “Sure, why not?”, and he did…and over the next 48 years, he never stopped putting them in, usually finding ingenious, if not always legitimate, ways to get as many of his rowers in as he possibly could. Harry was not one to worry about his coaching reputation. Now he’s gone, and, as I used to say to him when we’d race on the Charles, “May the wind be always at your back.”
I met Coach Parker in the late ’90s as a 40 year old modestly experienced sculler who was trying to improve my marginal sweep technique at a rowing camp in Maine. Although relatively new to rowing I knew who he was, everyone who has touched an oar does. I was the only master aged rower rowing in the boat with mostly high school and some college kids but he spent as much time coaching me as everyone else, I got the impression that he recognized the effort. One afternoon I even got a “That’s it” from him. It remains one of my most memorable rowing moments, I have it on an old VHS that I watch regularly. At the camp was ending Coach Parker was passing by, he extended his hand and said, “Good luck, keep working at it Ed” he actually knew my name! It meant a great deal to me then and apparently still does, I was so remarkably saddened to hear of his passing and our (the rowing communities) loss. God speed and flat water Harry.
as the Director of Insurance and Risk Strategy for Harvard, i dealt with Harry. I used to call him “walk on Water Parker.”
my favorite memory of Harry is when he dropped his video camera in the Charles. He had insured a camera and when he told me it dropped it i told him to send me a report with all the information.
when i read his report and checked the serial number against the one insured, i found it wasn’t the same one. i called him to tell him and got a typical Harry comment:
‘Annemarie I have two cameras but I only use one at a time so i gave you one number. why bother with two numbers.’
sorry to say i couldn’t pay him because he hadn’t technically insured the one he dropped.
Tuesday was a very sad day for the world of rowing. I had heard recently that his health had taken a downward turn…just a bit shocked that it came so quickly after the end of the season.
He went out a winner…and a legend. He did what he loved and with those whom he loved until the very end. He did it his way.
I am so pleased that on a balmy afternoon last February (2012) I was able to see him on the dock of Newell Boathouse and have a nice chat before he and Bill Manning went out in the launch to follow two eights in training. He was still at the helm and very much in charge.
RIP Harry Parker.
The Charles will never be the same. Low wind and flat water…
The Sarasota Florida rowing community, Sarasota Crew and Harvard Club mourn the passing of our great friend. Thank you for inspiring our youth. We will miss you Harry.
I never rowed for Harry.
I have rowed, learned and dined with many who have. They are so many powerful and motivated oarsman that I can not name them all here, but I heard the same thing from all of them.
“Harry made me a better man then I thought was possible.”
I do remember one time, though, when Harry did coach me, although I can’t really say I was rowing in any sense of the word.
It was spring 1983 and I was squatting in on the World/Pan Am Sculling Camp turnouts, going to every meeting they would let me in on, and joining up on the water twice a day and mimicking Bruce, Ridgley,Tiff, Grant, Biggy, John T, Brad, Paul and anybody else I could study while I thrashed about in a single.
One spring day on the Charles(1983), I had positioned myself ahead of Newell (approaching Anderson) headed down river in my single. I studied carefully as a Quad with Harry behind headed for me. I could not see anyone else but I recognised Tiff in Bow.
In a mighty effort I cranked on every bit of try-hard that I had brought in my suitcase from Washington, the western home of many a Harvard rival. As I was pouring it on, the Quad was scything toward at 24 spm gaining a boat-length a stroke. I knew that if I could make it to Western first I would consider it a monumental achievement.
I didn’t get there. But not because I wasn’t going to get there first. It was because Harry pointed his megaphone in my direction and said “Mike, can you move over please”.
He knew my name and he spoke it, on the water. I am still affected by that moment to this day, and I am a better man for it.
Just two and a half weeks ago, on the evening of June 8th , the night before the Harvard-Yale Race, members of the 1968 Harvard Olympic Rowing Team, and other Harvard oarsmen from that era held a reunion. It was held in an open tent overlooking Redtop, Harvard’s boat house on the Thames River, near New London, CT, where the Harvard-Yale Race has been held for eons. Harry arrived, driven by his oarswoman wife. He spent about 45 minutes holding court seated at a table crowded round with middle aged men — men who had all been young when they rowed for Harry roughly 45 years before.
There was something magic in those minutes. There was respect, fondness, kidding, and an understanding this weekend would probably be the last time we would ever see Harry. Age and sickness had definitely weakened him. He spoke with a voice much softer and gentler than that I remembered from decades before. But he still conveyed a sense of authority. Harvard had come in second the week before in the nationals. We knew his boys would beat Yale on the morrow. And he amazed us remembering the details of race after race from more than 4 decades ago, races that many of those around the table had rowed in.
I am so glad I attended that reunion. I am so glad I got a chance to say goodbye.
Harry, I’ll miss everything about you. You were tough when you needed to be, and kind when you could be. I first knew you as a coaching nemesis, and you later became a helpful friend. Thanks for all of it.
I’ll miss you Harry. I have the fondest of memories of times spent with you and Kathy in the 80’s. The world was a better place with you in it and you leave behind a great legacy. Well done, Harry.
Thank you, Harry. Well rowed, well lived, well taught.
Harry will be greatly missed by everyone at Community Rowing of Boston, which started with his help. The rowing world has lost a true legend!
Truly a giant of our sport, his shoes in terms of his contributions to rowing and rowers cannot be filled.
You’ve crossed the final finish line Harry….may you have nothing but flat water and sunny skies before you.
He was the kind of man that you love to hate. He lived a dream; he was a tough guy. He really knew how to whip the jocks into shape. A real legend; shall seriously be missed.
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