In Memoriam.

September 19, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Posted in My life | 10 Comments

On Thursday, my college band director, George Nathan Parks, passed away of a heart attack at the age of 57.

I can’t even begin to make sense of it.

I am a closet band geek. I admit it. In high school, I went to band camp, played the clarinet, then twirled a flag when I got bored with the clarinet.

In fact, I chose my college because of the band. My dad and I were there some Saturday, walking around the UMass campus, and I saw the trumpets warming up in front of Old Chapel – what was the band’s home. And when I heard them play, I turned to my father, and said “This does it. I’m coming here for college.”

I had never heard of George Parks before I went to UMass.

So when I got there, I was absolutely swept away into the program. George’s enthusiasm was infectious. Within a day I had 300 new friends; people I knew in all of my classes and dorms.

Marching band required WORK. We practiced every day from 4:40 – 6pm. We were on the field for rehearsal at 7am on Saturdays. We practiced Friday night, after dinner, on the weeks where we had a rough go of rehearsing.

It gave me a focus and work ethic I needed.

But with pride and enthusiasm. George was sprightly; a guy who seemed to just appear out of thin air. When he conducted, he seemed to FLY with the force of sound. (I mean FLY. We always used to wonder if he’d fall off his podium, he’d jump so high when he was conducting.)

And if you’ve never GONE and seen the UMass Marching Band, you just can’t know the power of the group. 90% of the fans STAYED after the game was over to watch the post-game show, right up to the end song where we all sang “My Way.”

That first semester, we played music from the movie “Hook.” And no matter whenever I hear it now, I know.

George was the Pan.

And when I went home for the summer, and my cousin Amy committed suicide, I drifted and cried and felt alone. George wrote me note that summer when he heard the news from someone. And he was waiting for me, at band camp, to see how I was doing. He sought ME out, and asked me how I was.

I can’t tell you for certain, but that awful semester back, when I floundered in my major (music), failed two non-music classes, walked around campus trying to make sense of my life…

If it weren’t for George Parks and his marching band program I’m not certain where I’d be today.

The UMass Marching Band is the cornerstone of the person I am today, of that I am certain.

But I cannot make sense of a world in which George Parks is not a part.

When we found out, my MIL said “well, he died doing what he loved.” And in the moment I bristled. (I HATE that phrase.)

But her words were the truth. Because he was the very embodiment of doing what he loved. He lived every day to the fullest, and threw himself into that love with enthusiasm and dedication.

So this morning, I ran my 10k. I ran hard. And when it hurt, and all my muscles were crying out “just walk!” I heard his voice in my head. “AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH-GAIN!!!!” And I smiled, and I ran.

And I finished my 10k today in 55:03. Which works out to be an 8:52 minute mile pace, and my fastest run ever.

Thank you George, for help making me the person I am today. Thank you for your leadership, your enthusiasm. Thank you for building a program that gave me some of the best friends I’ll ever have; my family. Thank you for the inspiration.

Thank you for changing my life.



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  1. I’m sorry he’s gone Serenity. He sounds like he was such a wonderful person. It is so hard to believe when people like that pass away. Especially so unexpectedly. He will always e flying in your memories.

    Awesome job on the 10k!

  2. What a beautiful tribute … and how lucky you were to experience his caring, his leadership, his music. I’m sorry for your loss … and I know that he will always be a part of the very best part of you.

  3. I’m sorry for this tragic loss and at such a young age. My deepest condolences go out to everyone he touched both at home and at work.

    We lost a family friend last week. He was in his 60’s, out for a leisurely motorcycle ride as he was known to do, had a stroke, crashed the bike, and was unable to recover. I said to his son and it was the truth, that if he was going to have a stroke, it was going to happen no matter where he was, and at least he was doing one of the things he loved most when it happened. While it does sound cliche’, it does simply and accurately reflect the silver lining in an otherwise tragic occurrence sometimes.

    We should all be so lucky as to pass from this earth either surrounded by loved ones or doing something that brings our hearts joy.

    I am so sorry for your loss.

  4. Sometimes people come into your life at just the right time and are exactly what you need. Sounds like he was one of them. So sorry you have to grieve his loss but this (and your run) was a wonderful tribute to what sounds like an amazing person.

  5. I’m sorry for your loss. But its wonderful to know someone touched you so deeply that his influence is still enough to spur you on to victory all these years later. He must have been an amazing man.

  6. He sounds like an amazing person. I am very sorry for your loss. Well done on your run, that was a lovely tribute.

  7. I am so sorry for this loss. As a fellow band geek (I stuck with the clarinet), I totally understand what a great band leader can do for your work ethic, your moral backbone–a person that can make you the wonderful person you are. Obviously, he was that person. I am sorry I did not know him.

  8. Sounds like a great program and a great person. I’m a band geek too (also clarinet, although I played the sax in the jazz band) and I too had the benefit of an amazing teacher come into my life at the right time. This was a beautiful post.

    And congrats on your amazing run! 🙂 You are going to rock your half!

  9. Everyone needs a George in their life.

  10. oh Serenity, I am so sorry to hear about this loss for you.
    I am so glad that you had George in your life and forever in your house, pushing you to go further, do it better, do it again.

    it makes sense, considering how amazing you are that you had someone amazing in front of you.

    MANY, MANY , MANY hugs my friend.

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