U.S. President Ronald Reagan is shoved into his limousine after being shot outside a Washington hotel, March 30, 1981. Secret service agent Jerry Parr, to the right of Reagan, was credited with saving the president's life. 
Photo by Ron Edmonds/AP

Jerry Parr, Secret Service savior of Ronald Reagan, dies

Jerry Parr, the Secret Service agent whose quick-thinking twice saved the life of President Ronald Reagan, died on Friday at a hospice near his home in Washington, his wife said. The cause was congestive heart failure. He was 85 years old.

On March 30, 1981 outside the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., Parr was the lead agent on President Reagan’s security detail. Hearing shots, he pushed the president into a limousine and dove in on top of him. Another agent shoved the two men into the vehicle, and shut the door.

“Take off!” Parr shouted to the driver. 

Out the back window, he saw three bodies on the pavement: fellow agent Timothy McCarthy, Washington police officer Thomas Delahanty, and James S. Brady, the White House press secretary. All three survived. 

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But the president almost did not. After Reagan complained of chest pain, Parr redirected the limo from the White House to George Washington Medical Center, a move that doctors later said may have saved the president’s life a second time.

Reagan, who had been shot once with a .22-caliber bullet, was bleeding internally. It took a two hour surgery to close the wound, thwarting the goal of a would-be assassin named John W. Hinckley Jr.  

“Jerry Parr was one of my true heroes,” Nancy Reagan said in a statement Friday. “Without Jerry looking out for Ronnie on March 30, 1981, I would have certainly lost my best friend and roommate to an assassin’s bullet.” 

Secret Service director Joseph Clancy also praised Parr in a statement, describing him as “someone that every Secret Service agent felt like they knew, even if you had never had the privilege and honor of meeting him.” 

Parr was born on Sept. 16, 1930, in Birmingham, Alabama. He joined the Secret Service in 1962 after a turn in the Air Force. When he retired in 1985, he became an ordained minister. He is survived by his wife, Carolyn, a retired judge; three daughters, and four granddaughters. 

In his last Twitter message in July, Parr posted a photo of himself and his wife accompanied by three words: “Love Is Enough.” Next week would have been his 56th wedding anniversary.