Crime

Serendipity–The Boy Who Grew Up to Save a President

Out of all the movies of 1939, nine-year-old Jerry Parr was most impacted by the film Code of the Secret Service.

There were many top box office hits that year, but the Secret Service movie was his favorite.

He sat in the theater fascinated by Agent “Brass Bancroft and his partner, Gabby Watters. They went undercover in a Mexican town that was the hub of a criminal counterfeiting ring. The suspects had stolen bona fide U.S. treasury plates and were converting $1 bills to $100 bills through a Mexican casino.

Brass made contact with a third agent in the Silver Dollar Saloon, but, after he gathers information on the ringleader, the lights go out, and that agent is shot.

Realizing local police suspect him, Brass flees, only to be picked up by a man who turns out to be the ringleader himself.

Parr was born in Montgomery, Alabama in 1930, but his family moved to the Miami area where he grew up. Over the years he thought about being a Secret Service agent and worked his way through college.

After graduating with a B.A. in English and Philosophy from Vanderbilt University in 1962, he took a job as a lineman for Florida Power and Light. By chance, Parr was interviewed by a visiting recruiter for the Secret Service.

Parr was excited at the opportunity to be like Brass Bancroft, the fictitious Secret Service Agent from the movie he saw as a kid.

When asked if he was able to assume the risks of the job, Parr replied it was probably no more dangerous than what he had been doing for the power company. He joined the Secret Service at age 32, the oldest rookie in his class.

His first big assignment was protecting President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson at the funeral of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Eleanor Roosevelt funeral.

After the assassination of President Kennedy, Parr was assigned to protect Lee Harvey Oswald’s widow Marina Oswald and his mother, Marguerite Oswald, until completion of Marina’s testimony before the Warren Commission.

From 1969-78, Parr worked for the Foreign Dignitary Division as a mid-level supervisor on Hubert Humphrey, Spiro Agnew and Gerald Ford details.

He also directed security for 56 foreign heads of state, including Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, Emperor Hirohito of Japan, King Juan Carlos of Spain and Pope John Paul II.

By 1979, he had been the Special Agent in Charge of the Vice Presidential Protective Division for  Walter Mondale. Parr then moved to the Presidential Protective Division, where he was Special Agent in Charge and Head of the White House detail.

On March 30, 1981, Parr called his wife Carolyn to suggest she go to the Washington Hilton Hotel to watch him escort the President out after his speech.

For grins, she drove over and just as planned, saw her husband coming out the door with the President at 2:27 p.m. Suddenly, shots were fired.

In fact, six shots were fired in just 1.7 seconds. Rapidly, Parr pushed the President into the waiting limousine and saved him from being hit in the head.

Parr immediately threw him in the back of the car after he was shot. He mistakenly thought the agent had broken his ribs when he hit the transmission hump.

Jerry Parr then overrode the President’s order to return to the White House and directed the driver to instead go to George Washington University Hospital. This action saved the President’s life. Parr received numerous medals and accolades for his performance that day.

The President was none other than Agent “Brass Bancroft,” in other words, Ronald Reagan, the actor who played that role in Code of the Secret Service–the movie he saw 44 years before.

When John Hinkley Jr. opened fire
the last bullet ricocheted off the armored side of the limousine and hit Reagan in the left underarm, grazing a rib and lodging in his lung, causing it to partially collapse, and stopping less than an inch (25 mm) from his heart.

Parr believed that God had directed his life so that he could one day save the president’s. After retiring from the Secret Service in 1985, he received his M.S. in pastoral counseling from Loyola University in Maryland.

An ordained minister, in 1987, Parr was awarded an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from Eureka College. 

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