Jerry Parr, the Secret Service agent who saved President Ronald Reagan’s life, has died. Parr was in charge of the security detail during the 1981 assassination attempt on the president by John Hinckley Jr., who was trying to impress actress Jodie Foster. Parr was 85.
Carolyn Parr, the wife of Jerry Parr, told the media that the retired secret service agent died on Friday while in hospice care in Washington. The man credited with saving President Reagan died of congestive heart failure.
Ronald Reagan was only 70 days into his first term in the Oval Office when John Hinckley Jr. tried to assassinate him in front of the Washington Hilton. The president had just made a speech and was exiting the hotel when the first rounds of gunfire from Hinckley’s revolver were heard, MSN reports.
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Jerry Parr shoved President Reagan out of the way and into the back of a waiting limousine. The Secret Service agent shouted “take off!” to the driver, and the limousine rushed away as Parr checked the president for wounds. A few moments after the bodily inspection was complete, Ronald Reagan began complaining of chest pains, and Parr saw blood on the president’s lips, CNN reports.
President Reagan’s limo was immediately redirected to George Washington University Hospital. He collapsed just a few steps inside the doors to the trauma center. Upon examining the president, doctors found that Reagan was suffering from massive internal bleeding. He reportedly lost more than half of his blood before surgery was begun to stop the hemorrhaging.
“If Jerry Parr took the president to the White House, Ronald Reagan would have died,” George Washington University Hospital top trauma surgeon at the time, Joseph Giordano, said. “There is no doubt in my mind. Jerry Parr is a hero.”
In an email after the death of Jerry Parr, Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy said those who knew the retired agent will “forever be able to lean on the lessons of integrity, character and compassion that Jerry displayed at all times.”
During an interview four years ago, Parr said the day he saved President Reagan’s life was both the best and worst day of his life. He also blamed agent complacency for John Hinckley Jr. being able to get close enough to the president to fire six rounds before being taken down.
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During the Reagan assassination attempt, three other people were wounded. White House Press Secretary Jim Brady, who suffered a head wound and died in 2014 from the life-altering complications from his injury. Washington, D.C. police officer Thomas Delahanty was hit in the back and retired after his recovery. Secret Service Agent Tim McCarthy was hit in the chest with a round which would have reportedly hit either President Reagan or Jerry Parr. McCarthy was able to recover from his injuries and ultimately returned to his job.
Jerry Studstill Parr was born September 16, 1930, in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1939, Parr went to watch the movie, The Code of the Secret Service, which just happened to star Ronald Reagan. Even though the president ultimately deemed the film the worst he ever made, the movie left a big impression on the 9-year-old future Secret Service agent.
Parr joined the Air Force and then worked for 13 years as a lineman for an electric company. He joined the Secret Service in 1962. He was sent to Dallas for several weeks in 1962 after President John F. Kennedy was killed. Parr was assigned to guard both the wife and mother of Lee Harvey Oswald.
Jerry Parr retired in 1985 and became a pastor before he and his wife co-authored their In the Secret Service memoir in 2013.
Nancy Reagan referred to Parr as one of her “true heroes” upon hearing of his death.
“He was humble but strong, reserved but confident, and blessed with a great sense of humor,” Nancy Reagan added. “It is no wonder that he and my husband got along so well.”
Parr is survived by his wife and their three daughters.
[Image via Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock.com]