A Life Well Lived
By Robby Stern
Will Parry died peacefully inn the home of his beloved friend Imogene Williams on Monday afternoon, May 13. Tom Parry, Will’s brother and close friend was by his side as he expired.
Ironically, Will died on the same day as his good friend, Larry Kenney, former president of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. The two men shared a passion for worker justice and baseball. Will and Larry had frequently worked together including a time when Will was President of PSARA and Larry was the Treasurer.
Will had been living with Imogene for several years and they experienced a beautiful friendship, including lots of opportunities to lovingly and in good humor give each other a hard time. When Will became seriously ill in December, Imogene was by his side, caring for him, advocating for him and believing in his ability to once again bounce back like he had done in the past. With the assistance of Imogene’s family, Jon Parry, Will’s wonderful son, other volunteers, and thought- ful, capable hospice nurses, Will was treated with the care, love and affection he so deserved.
Will wanted to keep going. He had other stories he wanted to write and more counsel he wanted to provide. He was the guiding spirit of PSARA.
In his 90s, Will developed a growing urgency to address the threat of climate change and the damage being done by the fossil fuel industry. In December 2012, Will wrote the article “To Save Planet Earth, Handcuff the Fossil Fuel Industry.” The first sentence in the article read, “This article is for my grandchildren. And yours. And everybody’s all around the world. I want them – all of them – to live out their lives on a vibrant, living planet.”
Kristen Beifus, co-chair of PSARA’s Environmental Committee wrote on hearing of Will’s death, ”It was a deep honor that Will spent some of his last moments steward- ing the PSARA Environmental Committee. We continue in his spirit of generosity and unrelenting hope.”
Tom Lux, co-chair of PSARA’s Environmental Committee and Government Relations Committee wrote: “I am so glad I was able to meet with Will a week before he died and share ideas with him. Even in his weakened state his thought process and resolve was clear. Unfortunately, even though I have been in Seattle over thirty years, I really didn’t get to know Will until a few years ago. I appreciate the time I was able to spend with him, his insight and humor. Will is a working class hero and I, as all of you, will miss him.”
Will’s life has been a history lesson in the struggle of the working class for economic and social justice in our country and in our world. From Will’s early days, his dad, a small businessman whose business failed during the Great Depression, exposed him to the thinking of communist and other progressive working class leaders. Will’s life experience and the devastation he saw around him were an object lesson for him on why he must get involved. He joined the Communist Party. He believed they had the most coherent analysis of what needed to be done to oppose the corporate robber barons of U.S. capitalism.
His incredible skills as a journalist soon shined through. He wrote for The New World and the People’s World until the terrible dark days of the McCarthy era deprived him of his ability to make an income to help support his family, his beloved wife, Louise, and his two children, Naomi and Jon.
Living during that time was really scary. Naomi recounted the time Will got angry with her as a young child because she had opened a sample food package that had come in the mail. Will feared, not without reason, that the package could be a threat to the family he loved. The FBI was a regular presence in their lives and used all the tools they had to try and intimidate Will and Louise and scare the family.
“Through my tears of sadness, I am savoring the memories of the hours spent with Will During some moments of quiet conversation, I asked Will if he had any messages for the PSARA Board. He always asked about the board’s plans, about the mayor’s standing, the Environmental Committee and the Mariners. In his usual thoughtful manner, Will said he would like to thank the board members and others for their ‘many courtesies’ and noted, especially, his gratitude for the leadership and commitment of the Environmental Committee. What a blessing it has been to know Will.” Bonny Oborn, Executive Board member and one of the volunteers who cared for Will.
In 1956, when he was no longer able to make a living as a leftist journalist, Will went to work for Longview Fibre and soon became a deeply respected leader of Local 817 of the Association of Western Pulp & Paper Workers (AWPPW). He experienced some red baiting, but Will’s humble and determined commitment to working class justice won over the union members.
He was elected to various union offices including being elected as the first paid lobbyist for the union. As lobbyist, he wrote weekly reports in his superla- tive prose educating his brothers and sisters. He went back to work in the factory when the legislative sessions were completed. He was respected and admired by the rank and file members as well as the leadership of the union.
Will also earned a reputation in Olympia as a thoroughly prepared, humble but articulate and forceful advocate for his union and the entire working class. When I was a lobbyist in Olympia I frequently heard Will de- scribed as a man of honor and integrity.
“Will Parry ‘presente.’ He’s in all the good work we do and have done and in the good fights to come. We’ll miss him every day, but we’ll also see him every day in all our acts of justice and solidarity.” Lynne Dodson, Secretary Treasurer, Washington State Labor Council
After Will retired from the box factory, he worked with the WA State Labor Council on various mobilization proj- ects, taught part time in the Labor Rela- tions program at Shoreline Community College and became the editor of the monthly newsletter of the Washington Federation of Teachers. He continued to inspire new generations of workers with the scope of his knowledge, his willingness to address issues of racial justice, educational opportunity and the necessity to treat the teachers of our community with respect.
“I am so devastated that Will passed away. It seemed not so long ago that he sat across from me at PSARA meetings, standing with him at several PSARA di- rect action events, or at Seattle Council meetings. I will miss him very much and hope I can emulate his commitment and dedication to peace and social justice issues. Thank you for having me as a PSARA member and introducing me to Will and for that I will be eternally grateful.” Frank Irigon. PSARA Executive Board member, Chair of PSARA’s Diversity Committee and community leader in the Asian Pacific Islander Com- munity.
After leaving WA Federation of Teachers, Will became active with the Puget Sound Council of Senior Citizens (PSCSC). He was Assistant Editor under Max Roffman until Max was no longer able to carry on. Will became Editor in 1994 and President for the first time
in 2000. He served for one year and was reelected as President of PSARA in 2002. He led PSARA as both Editor and President until he simply was no longer physically able to carry on in both roles. In December, 2008 he stepped down to serve as full time Editor.
In 2001, with the demise of the National Council of Senior Citizens, Will led the PSCSC as it became the Puget Sound Alliance for Retired Americans, a chartered affiliate of the National Alliance for Retired Americans. When PSARA was told that we could no longer use the Alliance for Retired Ameri- cans name and logo, Will came up with the name Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action.
Will and Al Peppard visited me in my office at the Washington State Labor Council in 2007. They told me that when I retired they hoped I would help them lead PSARA. I genuinely looked forward to working with Will and the other PSARA members. I retired in April of 2008 and was elected President of PSARA in December of 2009.
Will was my friend, my political mentor, my editor and my advisor.
Executive Board member and chair of our Education Committee , Mark McDermott, expressed my feelings as well as his, “My heart is so heavy at the passing of one of my heroes. Our world was made better by his presence and lessened by his passing. I will draw inspiration from Will’s life and spirit.”
Phyllis Baker served for several years as Will’s proof reader for The Retiree Advocate. Here is what she wrote upon hearing of Will’s death: “I think one good way to honor Will is to ‘pass it on’ to the next generation. Ask our members to tell their grown children about the Retiree Advocate and how important it is and about Will himself and suggest their children subscribe as a memorial to Will. I feel so lucky to have known him.”
A memorial for Will Parry is planned for Saturday, June 29, 2-5 p.m. in Hall 1 of the Seattle Labor Temple, 2800 First Avenue.
Donations in Will’s name may be made to PSARA at 2800 1st Ave. #262, Seattle, WA, 98121, to continue his work.