Jerry S. Parr, the quick-thinking and fast-moving Secret Service agent who was credited with saving the life of President Ronald Reagan after the 1981 assassination attempt in Washington, died Friday at a hospice center in Washington. He was 85.
The cause was congestive heart failure, said his wife, Carolyn Parr.
Parr had been an electric power lineman before his Secret Service years and a clergyman in retirement. But he was best known for the fraught moments after gunfire erupted on March 30, 1981, as the president was leaving the Washington Hilton Hotel. At the president’s side when the shots sounded, Parr did not immediately look for the gunman, John Hinckley Jr. Instead, he pushed the president into a waiting limousine.
As Parr and the president sped away from the scene, shielded in the bullet-proof vehicle, the agent carefully ran his hands over Reagan’s body, searching for bullet wounds. He found none. Then he recognized the ominous signs: The president complained about pain in his chest, and there was blood on Reagan’s lips.
Parr immediately ordered that the limo be driven to George Washington University Hospital instead of the White House. The president survived, but he had a close call.
“If Jerry hadn’t made the change,” First Lady Nancy Reagan later told CNN host Larry King, “I wouldn’t have a husband.”
Parr was assigned to Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and became head of the White House detail in the Presidential Protective Division in 1979. In recent years, he and his wife co-wrote “In the Secret Service,” a memoir.