Donald M. Parrish 1914 - 2006, a Biographical Sketch
On the airplane to Dallas, I wrote this biographical sketch of my father on the day he died.
I used it in the e-mail to his friends and relatives announcing his death.
He was born in Charles City, Iowa on September 8, 1914 just weeks after the Panama Canal opened and WWI started. He was the second of four sons. In 1918, he survived the Spanish flu pandemic. As a young boy, he collected stamps and built things.
In 1928, when he was 14 he built a crystal radio. He was thrilled when he received a letter from the Chief Engineer of WGN in Chicago thanking him for his report that WGN could be heard in Charles City, Iowa. Radio was in its infancy, and this type of feedback was appreciated.
In 1932, he graduated from high school in the middle of the depression. In high school, he had excellent grades, was on the debate and wrestling teams, and was class president.
In 1937, he graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State in Ames, Iowa. Only a few percent of the people in the US had college degrees in those days.
Professionally, he would spend his entire career in different aspects of the electrical power industry contributing to the building of the electrical infrastructure that we take for granted.
In 1940, he married my mother and they lived in Des Moines, Iowa.
In 1941, he was called to active duty in the Army signal corps as a Second Lieutenant at the brand new Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. On December 4, 1941, he boarded a ship in New Orleans with other signal corps troops bound for Panama. They arrived on December 8th and dug in for an expected Japanese attack that never came.
He spent the first half of WWII in Panama, Central America and the Galapagos Islands directing the building of transmission lines and submarine cables. The second half of WWII he worked at the Pentagon, and I was born in Washington, D.C. in 1944.
In 1946, he was discharged from the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel and we returned to Des Moines where my brother Philip was born in 1947.
In 1948, we moved to a then small city in Texas called Dallas. When my father moved to the nursing home in 2005, he was still living in the same house that he bought for us in 1948 at 6402 Lovett Avenue.
In 1950, we had the first TV in the whole neighborhood. In those days, it was very helpful have an electrical background to figure out which vacuum tube(s) needed to be replaced. I cannot find the classic photo that my father took of a dozen neighborhood kids sitting on our living room floor in rapt attention watching the small black and white TV.
In those days, my father was very active in photography and would often win contests and have his photos printed in the newspaper. He build a dark room and had the full set of equipment to do developing or enlarging.
In 1960, my father changed jobs at RT&E from being their manufacture's representative responsible for Texas, Arizona and New Mexico to being the manager of their third transformer factory in Arlington, Texas.
In 1968, he retired early to devote full time to his numerous hobbies and other pursuits. He was a mason and an amateur radio operator (ham) for over 50 years. He was an avid gardener and built a greenhouse in 1964. In his typical fashion, he read over 30 books, some more than once, before he built his greenhouse.
My father was one of the most extremely well read people that I have ever known. Other hobbies included computers. I got him started in about 1981 on the Timex Sinclair, and he progressed to a Commodore and finally a series of Macs. He learned touch typing in his 70s.
In the 1980s, I got him interested in genealogy, and he and I teamed up to find the key link that established our 5 Mayflower ancestors. Then he worked on tracing the descendants from key great grandparents while I continued working on more ancestors. We both were proud to join the Sons of the American Revolution; we have a dozen ancestors who fought in the Revolution.
My mother died in 1983 and my father lived alone and independently until early 2004 when he was 89. Then he was diagnosed with dementia and got care at home which increased to 24x7 by August 2004. He went to the nursing home in March 2005.
During his long retirement, starting in 1968, my father was a colorful figure zipping around in his 1967 VW with its built-in ham radio transceiver. He bought his VW and my mother's new car on the same day in 1967, and didn't buy another new car until 2001.
In 2002, my brother Phil died of liver cancer.
My father was generally in good health most of his life. He became hard of hearing taking quinine to prevent malaria in Panama in 1942. In the 1980s he survived two rounds of skin cancer. He had prostate cancer in 1996, and surgery to repair an aneurysm in his aorta in 2000. During his decline in the past two years, he had to deal with dementia, a fractured bone in his spine (2004) and a broken hip (2005).
My father outlived almost everyone in his generation both friend and relative. The secret of his long life: a consistent, positive and benevolent attitude. It also made him a beloved figure. One friend even named a son after him.
On the plane today, I thought of the words chiseled on Lincoln's tomb: Now he belongs to the ages.