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Harvard Mourns Loss of Legendary Crew Coach Harry Parker

Harry Parker served as head coach of the Harvard men's heavyweight crew team for 51 seasons (Tim Morse).

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Harvard Athletics is saddened to announce that Harry Parker, The Thomas Bolles Head Coach for Harvard Men's Heavyweight Crew, has passed away at the age of 77 after 51 seasons leading the Crimson.

"Harry Parker has been one of the nation's iconic coaches and educators," stated Bob Scalise, The Nichols Family 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."

"Harry Parker epitomized the coach as teacher," said Harvard University President Drew Faust. "He saw each of his rowers not just an athlete but as a whole person, a person learning not just how to excel at a sport but how to live a life. Generations of Harvard students will forever remember his formative influence. He was a living legend at Harvard and in the world of rowing, and his legend will long endure." 

Widely regarded as the premier rowing coach in the United States, Parker is survived by his wife, Kathy Keeler, sons, George '83 and David '85, MBA'91, daughter, Abigail '17, and grandchildren, David, Eric, Andrew, Anna and Noah.

A memorial service will be held later in the summer. Please check GoCrimson.com for updates on information regarding the memorial service.

Since taking over Harvard's heavyweight program in 1963, Parker 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. Parker also owned a 44-7 record at the Harvard-Yale Regatta, including six straight victories to close out his career, and had 18 student-athletes named Academic All-Ivy League over the last 20 years.

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.

Parker's final season in Cambridge came to a close 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 owns three course records at Henley, more than any other university. 

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 '83-85 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.

Parker began rowing as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, 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 was one of Harvard's most illustrious coaches and he may have been the greatest college crew coach of all time," said Jack Reardon '60, Executive Director of the Harvard Alumni Association and Associate Vice President for University Relations. "In any chosen profession, there are people who are very good and there are people who are the best. Harry Parker was the best. Harry's rowers revered him. He was a man of few words but those words counted, and he inspired his athletes to do better than they thought possible. There will never be another Harry Parker. I will miss him and Harvard will miss him."

Gifts in memory of Parker can be directed to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at:
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
10 Brookline Place West, 6th Floor
Brookline, MA 02445

Donors should enclose a note stating who the gift is in memory of and the name of the next of kin. Donations are also accepted online at http://www.jimmyfund.org/gift or by phone at 617-632-3019. 

Community Rowing Inc., which has its boathouse named in Parker's honor, is also accepting donations in Parker's name. The organization has a giving portal set up through "The Giving Common" at The Boston Foundation. To access the portal, visit https://www.givingcommon.org/profile/1070765