It’s been nearly 35 years since the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan stunned an entire nation.
That fateful day is more than just a part of history, it’s a part of Syracuse’s Kim Parr.
Kim’s father, Jerry Parr, was the lead Secret Service agent on duty when shots were fired on Reagan as he exited the Washington Hilton Hotel.
Agent Parr was the head of White House Security for the Presidential Protective Division.
He was one of 66 agents protecting the President on March 30, 1981, when he was giving a speech at the hotel.
“When he first heard the shots, training took over, muscle memory, cover and evacuate,” Kim explained. “All Secret Service agents are trained to cover and evacuate. Grab the President and get him out of there and that’s what he did, he went for the first open space there was and that was the door to the limousine.”
Kim’s mother, Carolyn Parr, was working as an IRS attorney at the time and was actually working across the street from the hotel on the day of the assassination attempt.
Carolyn walked outside to watch her husband escort President Reagan when she witnessed the shots being fired.
About halfway into the ride back to the White House, Kim says her father described to her many times what took place.
“The President began to cough up blood and my father noticed it was bright red, it was frothy and he knew from his training this was oxygenated blood coming from a lung injury,” Kim said. “It was at that moment he made the decision to divert the motorcade to George Washington Hospital.”
Agent Parr was a member of the Secret Service for 23 years.
During his time as an agent, Agent Parr guarded President Jimmy Carter as well as President Reagan.
In his career, he also guarded four Vice Presidents along the way, including Hubert Humphrey, Spiro Agnew, Walter Mondale and Gerald Ford.
For a few years, Agent Parr was on Foreign Dignitary Detail in which time he guarded Pope John Paul II, King Juan Carlos of Spain and Japanese Emperor Hirohito, to name a few.
Kim was a freshman studying advertising at Syracuse University on the day everything changed.
“A friend came up to me and said, ‘Hey Kim, is your dad OK?’” she explained. “I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ She said, ‘Someone tried to kill the President and a Secret Service agent was hit.’ My heart just went in my throat.”
Kim still lives and works in Syracuse. She is the director of public relations at LP&M Advertising.
She says this was the moment when she fully realized the good and bad that came with her father’s job.
Spending holidays at Camp David and attending White House receptions was normal for Kim and her two younger sisters, Jennifer and Trish.
Her family had become a part of these presidential families.
“When we found out the news about Nancy Reagan, it did hit us hard,” Kim shared. “She has been a part of our family for decades.”
Kim says the Former First Lady credited her dad for saving her husband’s life.
“Nancy Reagan never blamed my father or the Secret Service for the assassination attempt on her husband,” Kim said. “She was a very classy lady.”
Agent Parr and Nancy Reagan stayed in touch over the years and exchanged many letters.
“Nancy Reagan did have a close relationship with my dad,” Kim shared. “Both throughout the term of her husband’s presidency and beyond. They were good friends throughout their lives. They stayed in touch.”
Nancy Reagan also sent letters to Agent Parr when his health began failing.
Agent Parr passed away last year.
Letters from the Former First Lady and President Barack Obama also found their way to Carolyn’s mailbox.
“Ever since the 1981 assassination attempt, she and my dad had been very close and they continued to be good friends throughout their lives,” Kim said.
“Looking back, it’s obvious she just had class and undying support for her husband and for the office of the Presidency,” Kim shared. “She really was a great lady.”
Carolyn, a former federal judge for the U.S. Tax Court, was invited to Nancy Reagan’s March 11 funeral. She was unable to attend.
Agent Parr and Carolyn worked together to publish his first-hand accounts in a book called, “In the Secret Service: The True Story of the Man Who Saved President Reagan’s Life.”
Besides her parents, Kim says it was not unusual for Kim to know so many people who worked in the Federal Government.
“I went to school with friends whose parents were Senators and Congressman. The man across the street worked for the Pentagon,” Kim explained. “It wasn’t until I grew up that I realized that having a dad in the Secret Service was actually pretty cool.”
Kim says her parents met in Nashville when her mom was a 22-year-old college student at Vanderbilt. At that time, her dad worked for Florida Power and Light.
Carolyn Parr encouraged her husband to go back to school to get his college degree. He did just that and graduated from Vanderbilt at the age of 32 with a degree in philosophy.
Agent Jerry Parr was the oldest rookie in his Secret Service class.
Kim says her father found inspiration to enter this line of work from a very young age after seeing the President he would eventually protect in the line of fire in a movie about the Secret Service.
Agent Parr, an only child, was 9 years old when he saw the 1939 film, Code of the Secret Service, starring Ronald Reagan as agent Brass Bancroft.