George Parks: A Genuine Face of America
By Tony Mussari
Copyright, Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

Death is someone you see very clearly with eyes in the center of your heart. Thomas Merton

The news of the passing of Professor George N. Parks broke my heart and left me breathless.

It just couldn’t be true.

George Parks, the Director of the UMass Minuteman Marching Band, personified life. He had more energy than Vesuvius. He was a music man with a dream. He was a force in the lives of many and an inspiration to thousands of people whose lives were changed by his dedication, determination and charismatic leadership.

Over the years, George and I forged a friendship that was priceless. We lived in different states. We were committed to different artistic disciplines. Yet, in matters of the heart and soul we were brothers, fathers and teachers.

From the moment we met, I felt the powerful gravitational pull of his quest for excellence. I was touched by his determination to teach young people the quiet secrets of a happy life. Be on time. When you get there, do your very best. Never give in to the temptation to be just good enough. Always strive to be better. Always conduct yourself in a dignified and responsible way. Never forget to be there for someone in need, someone who is hurting, someone who is lost and forgotten.

Most people knew George Parks as the enthusiastic, energetic leader of the UMass Band. Indeed, that was his love, his passion and his reason for getting up in the morning. During his lifetime, he earned the respect and the accolades that measure success in a tangible way.

But beneath the exterior of this man in motion, there was a very big and very caring heart. George was a very reflective man who measured his success in other ways. As friends, husbands and parents, we shared some life experiences that formed the canvas of our friendship. In the quiet moments of his life, I got to know him in a very special way.

Yes, there were moments of high energy and pure joy like the time he brought the entire UMass band to the college where I taught for the premiere of his favorite documentary, Building Power and Class.

In typical George Parks fashion, when we were denied permission to march on the newly sodded football field, he took over the main street in the town for a performance that will never be replicated. That’s the George the public knew and loved. That was George the performer. That was George living what he taught his students, playing through the mistake.

The George I knew was a positive influence in my life. He was thoughtful, reliable and kind. He was there when I retired from teaching, when I was recovering from open heart surgery and when I began our Face of America Journey.

The George Parks I knew was a person who always had an encouraging word, a grateful word, an affirming word.

The George Parks I knew, I admired and I loved never forgot his friends.

The George Parks I knew was the man who called me every year from a special spot in Ohio where we shared a special memory. The George Parks I knew was the man who called on Father’s Day and talked for more than an hour about what fathers talk about when they are assessing the successes and failures of their lives.

The George Parks I knew reflected the spirit of America on its very best days. He made the most of his opportunities, he loved his family and he made his students an extension of his family. He gave much, demanded much and he was never too busy to repay a favor. No matter what the success or the failure of the moment was, George Parks never forgot his roots. He never took his eyes off the stars, and he tried to get a little bit better every day.

When I think about George Parks, the words Mr. Darling spoke to Michael in Peter Pan come to mind: There are many different kinds of bravery. There is the bravery of thinking of others before one’s self.

That’s the lesson George Parks taught by example in every note he played and in every class he taught.

As I say farewell to my friend George Parks two things are certain:

We will never see anyone quite like him again;

He will always live on in the hearts of those he touched with his words, his energy, his dedication to excellence and his marvelous music.

Those of us who loved him will always keep our heads up, our eyes straight, and our feet together as we make our way to the place were we will be together with him again.

For the moment, the words of Aeschylus apply:

In our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our own will, comes wisdom by the grace of God.

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