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Friends remember Mr. Fourth of July

Parker was a founding member of city's July 4 fireworks committee

Posted: Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Though former Juneau Mayor Larry Parker did not spend his last few Fourth of Julys in town, those who remember him still associate him with the holiday's festivities.

Parker, who died a week before Independence Day at the age of 84, was a founding member of Juneau's July 4 fireworks committee, and was involved in the pyrotechnics for more than 50 of the celebrations.

In an interview with the Empire several years ago, Parker reminisced about the early days of the fireworks show. He said the display was launched from the dock in the 1940s, until the loads began to get too heavy.

"The dock was getting older all the time, just like we are," he said in 1998. "It was better to take it out on the water and get it away from the beach."

It was Parker who began the practice of setting off the fireworks from a barge in Gastineau Channel, a practice that has become a Juneau tradition.

Parker was also a fixture in Juneau's Fourth of July parade, said Kevin Ritchie, executive director of the Alaska Municipal League, former city manager and a fellow retired volunteer firefighter.

"He used to ride with us every year on the fire truck, up until he left Juneau," Ritchie said.

Friend and former Mayor Bill Overstreet said Independence Day was obviously Parker's favorite holiday.

"Around here you just associated Larry with fireworks and the Fourth of July. You just thought of him that way, and he liked to be thought of that way," Overstreet said.

Parker was elected mayor in 1959, when campaigning was largely unnecessary because everyone knew everyone else and people voted based on their personal relationships with the candidates, said Overstreet, who served as mayor from 1974 to 1983.

"There was no flim-flam, no campaigning of consequence. Larry won those elections, which spoke of the community's attitude toward him," he said. "It was possible then for a good man to be elected without making a bunch of foolish promises."

Parker is remembered as a hands-on city leader.

"He was mayor at a time when city government was manageable. He knew what was going on in each department. He was there when they were working on the water lines and the sewer lines, and he was always looking in on what they were doing," Overstreet said.

Parker was born and raised in Vermont. An out-of-college Army stint led him to Alaska, and he and his wife, Kay, moved to Juneau in 1946.

They lived here 55 years before moving to a Seattle-area retirement home two years ago. He became involved with the Golden North Salmon Derby in 1948, and served as vice president of the Territorial Sportsmen Inc., the derby's sponsor, though he was neither a fisherman or a hunter.

Before becoming mayor, he worked as a sanitarian and training officer for the territorial Alaska Health Department until 1959, inspecting restaurants and water supplies around the state and providing health instruction to villages.

He was also a lieutenant colonel in the Alaska National Guard.

After leaving office, Parker remained active in community issues, such as the construction of Egan Drive in the 1970s.

"We were going through the dearly loved tidelands, but I knew we were going to have to take some place to build it," Parker told the Empire in 2001. "I just tried to keep a positive attitude about it."

Friends said it was that positive attitude that made him stand out.

"He was one of those people that kind of helped me define Juneau," Ritchie said. "He gave a lot to the community. He was friendly and extremely easy to talk to. When you're talking about what people from Juneau are like, you might describe Larry."

A memorial service for Parker is pending for later this month.

Masha Herbst can be reached at masha.herbst@juneauempire.com.



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