By Tim Wheeler
Remembering Will on his Birthday
In the days before he passed away last May 13, Will Parry was surrounded by people who loved him, Imogene Williams first of all. Will lived with Imogene in her gracious house on Capital Hill. As he failed, Will’s daughter, Naomi, his son, Jon, and his brother Tom came to be with him.
Women and men from all the progressive movements came in a steady stream to tell Will how much they admired him for his decades of unwavering leadership. It included members of Will’s Communist Party Club in Seattle that he attended every month even as his health was failing.
Imogene and the CP Club put on a birthday party for Will last April 21, his 93rd. Family and friends gathered in Imogene’s living room, and Imogene’s daughter Ruth brought in a chocolate cake supplied by Catherine Pottinger, decorated with two glowing candles.
We sang Happy Birthday, and Will’s face, weary and drawn, broke into a radiant smile. It was the same humorous, gentle smile we all knew. At that moment, we all hoped that Will would bounce back and live another 10 years.
What was it about Will Parry that made people love him so? In his youth, Will Parry was the “best and the brightest.” He was well-born, handsome, a track & field star. He graduated from college Phi Beta Kappa. He was a U.S. Coast Guard veteran. He married a lovely, gifted woman, Louise Long, and they had two beautiful children.
Will could have been a millionaire. He could have been a U.S. senator. While he ran for office, winning was always secondary to his principles: “People and Nature Before Profits.”
Early in life, Will took a different path. Maybe he had read that lovely line of Jose Marti we hear today in Guantanamera: “Con los pobres de la tiera/Quiero yo mi suerte echar.” (With the poor people of this earth I wish to share my fate.)
He loved working-class people, sang for them and strumming on his battered guitar, invited them to sing with him. Once at a People’s World barbeque at Genesee Park, Will was leading the crowd in singing “Goodnight Irene.” People were remembering the verses and singing them. Will sang: “Sometimes she wears pajamas/ Sometimes she wears a nightgown/ But when they’re both in the laundry/ Irene is the talk of the town.” The crowd erupted in laughter and applause and Will himself was laughing and strumming his guitar. His handsome face radiated so much joy. He was drawing that joy from the crowd. His connection with the people, especially people fighting the good fight, was the source of his strength and eternal optimism.
Will devoutly believed that masses of working people—women and men, African American, Latino, Asian Pacific, Native American Indian, and white— will determine the destiny of our nation and the world. Ultimately, he believed that the internal contradictions of capitalism would lead the people to opt for a system of maximum economic and political democracy— socialism.
Will himself played a huge role in helping organize those coalitions. He understood that those movements are invincible if they are fully united and mobilized.
Will understood the deadly dangers posed by Karl Rove and the Koch Brother billionaires. Utilizing their age-old trusty weapons — racism, sexism, and homophobia — they would drive wedges into that movement.
That is why Will was such a determined foe of racism. He plunged into the movement to rescue the Central Area Senior Center when it faced bankruptcy. Working together with Thurston Muskelly, they raised $131,000 to fund the center that serves the mostly African American community. Will was a strong supporter of Mothers for Police Accountability and its leader, the Rev. Harriett Walden, which fights to end police brutality in Seattle.
Will and Louise were targets of another wedge issue used by the ultra-right to divide and weaken the movement for progressive change: anti-communism. Will was hounded and harassed by the FBI, blacklisted from every well-paying job. His refusal to buckle to the fear and intimidation, his defense of his beliefs and his staunch upholding of the Bill of Rights is another reason Will Parry was embraced as a hero of the people’s movement.
Will was a strategic thinker. He put his energy and brainpower where he thought it mattered most. When he reached retirement age, he gave all his energy to organizing the senior citizen movement. He knew that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were the crown jewels in a century of struggle by the working class and its allies. Driven by profit-greed, the corporate ultra-right poured out lies about “Social Security going broke” and how the answer was private accounts in the Wall Street banks. A brilliant word craftsman, Will exposed the thieves and mobilized PSARA and the people to fight back.
In the June edition of the Retiree Advocate, Robby Stern, president of the Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action (PSARA) wrote a tribute to Will calling him “the guiding spirit of PSARA.”
Stern added, “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.”
Stern cited Will’s last major article that appeared under the headline, “To Save Planet Earth, Handcuff the Fossil Fuel Industry.” The lead sentence of the article reads, “This article is for my grandchildren. And yours. And everybody’s around all the world. I want them to live out their lives on a vibrant, living planet.”
We did not know it at the time, but Will was writing his own epitaph. We hear you, Will. We will try to live our lives the way you lived yours.
Tim Wheeler, a PSARA member, is a former editor of People’s World.