Friday, September 17, 2010

The day the music died

George Parks demonstrating Power and Class.

UPDATE: Monday morning So unless you have been living in a cave somewhere you probably know the Umass Marching Band put on a hell of a performance in Michigan before the largest live crowd in their entire history. The football team also came close to pulling off a Cinderella win as well.

My ultra reliable source at the State House indicates the Chancellor can order the flags on campus to half staff on the day of George Parks memorial service as can the Town Manager or Select Board order the municipal flags to half staff on town property as well.

A fitting tribute to a most deserving individual.

Even though he was immersed in something macho martial arts guys might mistakenly think a tad wimpy, I remember the first time I met George Parks at my karate studio about 15 years ago when he signed up his two children and would often come watch me teach their lessons.

I could tell instantly he was a dedicated father. But when I soon thereafter witnessed him perform as Umass marching band leader, I was even more impressed with his physical ability to control and coordinate a massive wave of college kids with loud instruments like a perfectly trained border collie herding sheep.

A few years later I called him up, not knowing if he would even remember me, to ask a favor. Without hesitation he volunteered to perform with whatever band members he could muster.

Since the first band practice did not happen until mid-month, acquiring a decent ensemble on 9/11 was not easy. But he reported that morning to the Amherst town common--the first anniversary--with about a dozen kids, and they played like it was Carnegie Hall.

The last time I talked to George was almost exactly a year ago at the UMass groundbreaking ceremony for the George Parks Marching Band building. I asked him is he could muster a few kids on 9/11/11 for the tenth anniversary ceremony and he instantly responded, "Of course!"

But now he's gone. I'm sure tomorrow--because of the discipline he instilled--the Umass marching band that was his life will play their hearts out in the Michigan Big House.

And I'll bet, somewhere, George N. Parks will be smiling.

Yes, slightly unreporter like of me to yell, "Looking good Boss!" as he passed. He of course noticed me standing dead center in the middle of the road to get the shot and although he never broke his rigid disciplined march or even moved his head, just as he passed he gave me a wink.

The Springfield Republican, sadly, reports

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Sat, Sep 18, 2010 9:14 am
Subject: Flags to half staff request

Suzzette Waters
State House Events
Bureau of State Office Buildings

Hey Suzzette,

If ever a Massachusetts state employee deserved the flag to fly at half staff to mourn his stunningly sudden loss, it would be George N. Parks. And I know first hand what a believer he was in our country, its values and that he strove to instill that in countless thousands of students over the past thirty years--mainly by example.

He played for Presidents and football fans and kids at Christmas. He will always be remembered in our hearts

Could you mention this simple request to the Big Boss?


Larry K


Anonymous said...

He winked at you? Gosh! That's amazing. And I'm always amazed how no matter what the story you always have to insert yourself into it.

Larry Kelley said...

Yeah well after 30 years of being, you know, INVOLVED you come into contact with many thousands of people and their stories; and none were any finer than George Parks--both as a person and as a story.

(I did not bother to go into some of the other issues George helped me out with, because I figured you were out there lurking...)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 10:16 AM clearly woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

Thank you for the tribute to a fine man that many of us never had the pleasure to know, and about whom we are learning a lot in recent days. These are the people that make Amherst a great place to live, despite our strange politics and the angry anonymous naysayers who chime in here.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

George Parks was a real mensch. I always enjoyed cheering along with him and his ensemble at the school-year-opening community breakfast, and have appreciated his many enthusiastic band members who've attended my courses over the years. It's hard to believe he's gone - to say he'll be missed is an understatement....

- Your Friend

Larry Kelley said...

A mensch indeed!

Or as we say around the neighborhood pub, "A real stand up guy."

Anonymous said...

George Parks' contribution to the lives of young people at UMass and around the country, to the UMass and Amherst and to everyone he touched throughout his life, is more than any of us can ever imagine.

Thank you George. And thank you Larry for this tribute.

Larry Kelley said...

I was with a couple Umass Vice Chancellors on Friday morning just after the news first broke, and I told them they had better reserve the Mullins Center for George's ceremony.

Folks from far and wide are going to come back to Umass to pay their final respects

Anonymous said...

Date: Sat, 18 Sep 2010 19:41:14 -0400
From: "UMass Chancellor's Office"
Subject: Remembering George Parks
X-UMass-Massmail: event MM1804
X-Greylist: Sender IP whitelisted, not delayed by milter-greylist-2.0.2 (thal\ []); Sat, 18 Sep 2010 19:41:50 -0400 (EDT)
X-Scanned-By: MIMEDefang 2.56 on

Dear Campus Community,

As we mourn the loss of George Parks, the outpouring of sorrow and
support, both on campus and beyond, has been tremendous. We must all
take solace in knowing that while we grieve, we do so as a community.

Plans are under way for a memorial service and we will share the details
of date, time, and place, once they are finalized. At the request of the
family, we have created the George N. Parks Memorial Fund for donations
in lieu of flowers. A link to this fund is available at

Today, our Marching Band played the ultimate tribute to their beloved
leader, as they performed in Michigan, despite their grief. As they
return to campus this weekend, at their request, we are asking the
campus and community to forego any plans to gather and meet their buses.
The Marching Band has indicated that they prefer privacy at this time,
and we must respect their wishes.

Sincerely yours,

Robert C. Holub

James V. Staros