Harry Parker dies; Penn rower, Harvard coach

Harry Parker rowed at Penn in the mid-1950s before becoming a longtime Harvard rowing coach.
Harry Parker rowed at Penn in the mid-1950s before becoming a longtime Harvard rowing coach.
Posted: June 28, 2013

Harry Parker, 77, a former Penn rower who coached the Harvard men's heavyweight crew team to 22 undefeated seasons and eight official national titles since 1963, died Tuesday.

"Harry Parker was an absolute giant in his field, and we are proud to call him a Penn alum," Steve Bilsky, the Penn director of athletics, said on the school's website.

The cause of Mr. Parker's death was myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood disorder once known as "preleukemia" in which blood-forming cells in the bone marrow are damaged. The diagnosis was made in 2011.

After Mr. Parker took over the Crimson program in 1963, his teams won eight official national titles, 24 Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges Sprints varsity titles and held a 44-7 record in the Harvard-Yale Regatta, according to the school's athletics department.

"He has touched the lives and has influenced countless Harvard oarsmen over the years," Harvard athletic director Bob Scalise said on the school's athletics page.

Mr. Parker began rowing as an undergraduate at Penn in the mid-1950s and was part of victorious crews in 1955 at Sprints and the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley. He won a gold medal in single sculling at the Pan American games in 1959 and placed fifth in the single at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. He coached men's and women's U.S. Olympic teams from 1964 to 1984 in addition to his Harvard duties.

Mr. Parker is survived by his wife, Kathy Keeler; sons George and David, daughter Abigail; and five grandchildren.

A memorial service is expected to be held later this summer.

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