Penn Mourns Passing of Rowing Legend Harry Parker C'57 Appreciation story about Joe Burk and Harry Parker

USRowing Appreciation Appreciation

PHILADELPHIA – The University of Pennsylvania is saddened by the death of Harry Parker C’57, an absolute icon in the rowing world and arguably the biggest name in the world in his sport. Parker passed away Tuesday night, June 25,at the age of 77.

Widely regarded as the premier rowing coach in the United States, Parker spent the last 51 years as the Thomas Bolles Head Coach for Harvard Men’s Heavyweight Crew. He is survived by his wife, Kathy Keeler; sons George and David; daughter Abigail; and grandchildren David, Eric, Andrew, Anna and Noah.

“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,” Ed Hewitt wrote on the website “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. 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.

“If our sport has its truly iconic figures, and most certainly it does, Harry Parker is surpassed by none.”

Parker began rowing as an undergraduate at Penn, where he was part of victorious crews in 1955 at Sprints and the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley. After graduating, he took up single sculling and won the gold medal at the 1959 Pan American Games. He then placed fifth in the single at the 1960 Olympics.

"Harry Parker was an absolute giant in his field, and we are proud to call him a Penn alum," said Penn's Director of Athletics, Steve Bilsky. "This is where he got his start as a rower, and he was always a loyal supporter of the program. I am sad to hear about his passing."

“Harry Parker,in my mind, is probably the principal architect of modern collegiate rowing in this country," said Greg Myhr, currently the Nicholas B. Paumgarten Head Coach of Men's Heavyweight Rowing here at Penn. "One of the enduring thrills of my own high school career was just receiving a recruiting call from him. On a professional level, while Harry’s Harvard crewswerealways punishingly competitive, he has been a loyal supporter of Penn Rowing and has also been very kind to me personally. I -- along with the entire rowing world, I suspect -- will miss him tremendously.”

“Coach Parker was one of the very best in our sport," said Nick Baker, Penn's men's lightweight rowing coach. "As a Penn oarsman, a national team oarsman, a longtime national team coach, and 50+ years as coach of the Harvard heavyweight program he was one of the best. His influence over collegiate rowing will be impossible to match and his winning percentage, especially in the big races, will no doubt go down as one of the elites in coaching. Our program’s thoughts and prayers go out to Coach Parker’s wife and children, as well as all the people who are struggling with his loss.”

“Harry is the ultimate icon in the sport of rowing," said Mike Lane, Penn's head coach of women's rowing. "When you think of our sport, you think of Harry. It is a tremendous loss for our community; however, his legacy in terms of how he impacted the sport will live on forever. I had the pleasure of coaching on the Charles River for three years, and had many opportunities to see Harry in action. Every time I passed him I would stop and watch in awe. His quiet ability to demand respect and squeeze out every inch of speed was like watching an artist at work. I am forever grateful to have been able to watch him in action for those three years.”

“Harry Parker was not only the ultimate coach and teacher, but I considered him a good friend," said Penn's longtime heavyweight rowing coach, Stan Bergman. "To beat one of Harry’s Harvard crews was always thought to be quite the accomplishment. He set the bar high and influenced thousands of young oarsmen and coaches. My thoughts and prayers are with Kathy, Abigail, and the rest of Harry’s family. ‘Well rowed,my friend.’”

Parker took over Harvard’s heavyweight program in 1963. He then guided the Crimson to 22 undefeated regular seasons, 24 EARC Sprints varsity titles, 21 second varsity Sprints crowns, and a combined 16 official and unofficial national championships.

In 2012, Parker was also awarded the Harvard Medal for extraordinary service to the university. The Harvard Medal recognizes extraordinary service from teaching, leadership, and innovation to fundraising, administration, and volunteerism.

“Harry Parker has been one of the nation’s iconic coaches and educators,” said Bob Scalise, Harvard’s Director of Athletics. “He has touched the lives and has influenced countless Harvard oarsmen over the years. His love of the sport, dedication to the success of his students and devotion to Harvard are evident in all Harry has done. His legacy and impact on our program over the last five decades will remain. We will miss him as a coach, role model, leader and a friend.”

Parker's final season in Cambridge came to a close just a few weeks ago with a sweep of Yale. The Crimson finished fourth as a team at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) National Championships, with the varsity eight earning a silver medal, after capturing its fourth straight Rowe Cup at the EARC Sprints. Harvard was again unbeaten in the regular season and finished either first or second in each event it entered.

Since 2003, Harvard varsities had won three IRA national championships and had taken seven EARC Sprints titles. The 2011 campaign was one of the best in Crimson history, with the first varsity, second varsity and freshman eights each winning Sprints titles and IRA medals. Each boat was also undefeated during the regular season, as Harvard won every dual race in which it entered an eight. Following that season, Parker was awarded the USRowing Medal, given to the member of the rowing community who has accomplished extraordinary feats in rowing. It is the highest honor USRowing can bestow.

Notwithstanding the many successes of his varsity crews, Parker took particular pride in the success of his so called lower crews; second, third and fourth varsity boats. He strove to ensure that every member of the varsity heavyweight squad received equal coaching attention and had a satisfying experience while on the team. As a result, Harvard's lower boats also enjoyed great success over the years and a large percentage of the oarsmen remained with the team for all four years.

Parker began his storied coaching career in 1960 as Harvard’s freshman coach. After the sudden death of head coach Harvey Love, Parker was promoted to the role which he would go on to hold for 51 seasons. Parker’s efforts also reached outside the Harvard rowing community, as evidenced by the 2008 dedication of Community Rowing, Inc.'s new boathouse in his honor.

During Parker’s tenure, Harvard crews enjoyed spectacular success at the Henley Royal Regatta in England. It began with the 1973 JV win of the Ladies' Plate followed by the 1985 varsity win of the Grand Challenge Cup, its fifth and most recent title in Henley's most prestigious race. Harvard went on to six more varsity victories in the Ladies' Plate. The victory in 2012, beating Leander by one foot, was one of the most thrilling victories of his career as the crew overcame a three-seat deficit over the final 50 meters. Harvard also won three times in the Britannia and Prince Albert fours events.

The Crimson also won the 1965 Lucerne International Regatta, took second at the 1967 world championships, captured the 1967 Pan American Games and claimed the 1968 U.S. Olympic trials before taking sixth in the Games at Mexico City. Additionally, a total of 52 Parker-coached Harvard oarsmen have rowed at the Olympic Games over the past six decades.

From 1964 in Tokyo until 1984 in Los Angeles, Parker regularly coached U.S. Olympic crews, leading both men's and women's entries to strong finishes in the eights and handling the sculling at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. He coached the 1972 Olympic men's eight, which featured five Harvard oarsmen, to a silver medal and led the first U.S. women's national team to compete in the world championships, earning a bronze in 1975. Parker later coached the U.S. women's eight to a bronze medal at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.

In 1980, Parker coached the U.S. men's Olympic eight, which ranked second in the world prior to the boycott of the Moscow Olympics. In 1985, he coached single sculler Andy Sudduth to an astonishing performance in the World Rowing Championships, during which Sudduth finished second and defeated four-time world champion Peter Michael Kolbe of Germany.

A memorial service will be held later this summer.