After a two-year bout with myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of blood cancer, perhaps rowing's most legendary - if it is even strong enough a word – oarsman and coach passed away this evening, June 25 2013. There may be no other living oarsman or coach whose passing would leave so vast a gap in the rowing world.
To try to put a point on the contributions that Parker made to the sport would be almost futile - his influence is felt in almost every element of the sport of rowing as practiced in the 21st century. Don't follow, or don't think so? This may help: Harry very nearly single-handedly invented the fall collegiate rowing season.
Another: Harry was coach of the first US women's crew to compete in the World Championships in 1975, and coach of the bronze medal women's 8 at the 1976 Olympics. According to Dan Boyne, the originally reluctant Parker rallied behind women's rowing, and his "enthusiastic support helped put women's rowing on the map," as noted by Red Rose Crew author Dan Boyne.
Here's another: a bunch of scullers training under Harry's supervision out of the Newell Boathouse in 1980 created the CRASH-Bs, the first move toward making ergometer training an absolutely fundamental part of the sport.
Edit 5:30am 6/26
: Parker is also considered likely to have invented - or if he was not the sole inventor, he played a part in the creation and is almost entirely responsible for the widespread adoption of - seat-racing; enough said.
Parker coached the last collegiate crew to represent the US in the Olympics, in 1968 - and 26 years later, in 2004, he took the Harvard varsity to the Lucerne World Cup to row as USA2, where they made the final by defeating the GB and French Olympic crews; the French crew later went on to make the final at the Olympics.
Along the way, there were 22 undefeated regular seasons, 24 EARC Sprints varsity titles, 21 2V Sprints crowns, eight official national championship victories, and eight unofficial national crowns when the Crimson went undefeated against all major competition, and any number of "best collegiate crew ever" debates and comments.
But there is no point in chronicling all or even most of Harry's contributions and achievements here for anyone reading row2k; we all already know. Harry was one of us, albeit arguably a truly rarified and even exalted one of us - and no one here needs convincing that he was important, or influential, or successful, or even massively creative and revolutionary at times. His competitiveness was colossal and unflinching, his demand for excellence sustained, clear, and pure. There is a reason the whole rowing world refers to Harry as "Harry," by his first name, and not as Coach Parker, or Mr. Parker, or anything else, really. For a man who was known to be hard to know, somehow we all call him by his first name - no more needed to be said. There is only one "Harry." In the rowing world, for the past 50+ years, if someone referenced "Harry," it meant Harry Parker. This was true in the US, overseas, at Henley, and beyond; there aren't many folks who earn that distinction. Royalty, maybe.
So now the rowing world must forge ahead without Harry, a man who without question set, or arguably even wholly created, a standard that has driven everyone in the sport, and especially the best in the sport, to be better at what we do.
Harry kept coaching truly right up to the end - he was driving his own launch at the Harvard-Yale race two weeks ago on a day he could hardly trust his legs, and just this weekend, got a "three hour pass from the hospital"l to coach the 1980 Olympic crew he coached this past Sunday for a reunion row – the crew that Harry selected and coached that was favored to medal in Moscow, but did not compete due to the US boycott of the Games – which rowed alongside another eight that included more of Harry's most celebratedand others –and was stroked by Harry's daughter Abigail while Harry coached and Kathy joined him in the launch.
When a man sticks with his work and his passion truly until the very end, it can be a source of both admiration and wonder for everyone involved. Even the deeply dedicated audience that is likely to read this simple remembrance might wonder what drives someone to keep on, and from stepping down earlier; but with Harry it did not seem that he kept coaching out of any vanity at all - particularly since some of the challenges he faced were very visible, which weakens the case considerably - but truly out of love, for the athletes, the sport, the tradition, the motor launch, the crews, the water, the rivers, Red Top - really for all of it. Here is Harry headed to the dock after his varsity won the Sprints yet again last month; this looks like a happy man. That we should all face a fate such as this... and there again Harry speaks and acted and lived for a whole lot of us. If our sport has its truly iconic figures, and most certainly it does, Harry Parker is surpassed by none. To Harry's family, trust that the rowing community will rally tremendously on your behalf at this time; we are all pulling hard for you.
Thank you Harry, Godspeed, and rest in peace – tremendously well rowed.