Harry Parker, the legendary Harvard heavyweight crew coach who built an ongoing dynasty on the Charles River that covered half a century, died at 77 Tuesday afternoon after a two-year battle with cancer, barely a fortnight after his varsity completed an unbeaten regular season by swamping archrival Yale.
“Harry Parker has been one of the nation’s iconic coaches and educators,” athletic director Bob Scalise said in a statement. “He has touched the lives and has influenced countless Harvard oarsmen over the years.”
Universally acknowledged as the dean of America’s rowing coaches, Parker was renowned not only for his unparalleled longevity but also for his extraordinary success. His boats won 16 official and unofficial national titles and 24 Eastern Sprints crowns and had 22 unbeaten regular seasons in his 51 years at the helm.
Parker, a world-class sculler who finished fifth in the 1960 Olympics, was a renowned innovator whose legacy was global. His 1965 boat was proclaimed “The World’s Best Crew” by Sports Illustrated, which featured Parker on the cover. His 1968 Crimson varsity reached the Olympic final in Mexico City and Parker coached both the 1972 US men’s eight that won the silver medal in Munich and the 1976 women’s eight that earned the bronze in Montreal.
Parker also directed the 1980 US men’s eight that was kept home from Moscow by the Carter Administration’s boycott of the Games. Last Sunday Parker was back on the Charles for that team’s reunion row, driving the launch with wife Kathy while their daughter Abigail, who will enter Harvard this fall, stroked one of the boats.
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