Today I attended the memorial of Lieutenant Colonel (Ret) Robert D. Parrish — a good man I only met a handful of times, and to me was simply Bob.
My first impression of Bob came a little over ten years ago while in Olympia, Washington. A number of individuals from the local Scottish community held a gathering on the steps of the state capitol to observe National Tartan Day — my duty was to perform as a soloist, further bringing attention to the heritage with our distinct music.
After our ceremony we went to a local restaurant, and since we had a sizable group we were seated in the banquet room. Among the people I sat with was a fellow and his wife. This fellow proceeded to show off his sharp machine-gun wit, cracking jokes about anything and everything that came up — half of his jokes involved his wife — these left me agape, however she barely seemed to notice. He was clearly a part of the Scottish-American military contingent, wearing a green shirt presenting a number of ribbons. On the other side of his chest was a tag that read PARRISH — I was trying to figure out if it was his name or if he was military clergy … but if he was clergy how could he have all these ribbons, and how could he possibly be making such wild jokes?!?
When we finished with lunch our server came around with our individual bills — except I didn’t seem to have one. I asked the server and I was told that my bill had been taken care of. Everyone in the room noticed this, so I took the moment to say thank you and asked who did this so I may thank them directly. I looked around the room and when I came around to Bob he looked me square in the eye and said, “I did. I appreciate your playing today — thank you.” He barley knew me and he bought me lunch; in content it was perhaps a small thing but in context he took it personally that I had been of service to the group and to the heritage, and in doing so he helped show me gratitude.
In the years that followed I saw Bob at various events. Every time he saw me after that first time he’d greet me with a smile and energetically belt out “How ya doin’, young man?” Bob could be highly serious, yet he always retained his smile and wicked sense of humor.
Four or five years ago I told a friend of mine in the Scottish community that I was considering joining the local chapter of the Scottish American Military Society (SAMS) to honor my WWII grandfathers. She replied that it was a great organization that she thought I would fit in well with, and that it had quite a few good men and women “…like Bob Parrish, and … and … and …” Each name that she gave was a reputable individual whom I recognized and respected, and the first person she thought to name was Bob. He never knew, but I joined SAMS Post 1889 in part because Bob Parrish was a member.
I spoke on the phone with that same friend this past week. When I found out that we were both planning to attend his memorial I reflected on my first impression of Bob. She replied, “Yes, he could be a very generous man.” — she was right, and posthumously Bob further taught me about generosity.
I learned today that Bob was a twice published author. From the family and friends who shared about him I learned that he pushed himself to be a better person and he pushed those around him to be better. There was a long list of respected organizations that he was a part of represented by the people in attendance at the memorial spoke about him. The Lakewood chief of police was in attendance. There was a lot of laughter as people shared stories about him — they weren’t so much sad about his passing but happy that their lives were touched by him. These people affirmed what I already thought about Bob — the line about how a good man elevates himself, and a great man elevates those around him.
As a final connection, I was honored to be a pall bearer along side the good men and women of SAMS Post 1889.
Bob, thank you for you many gifts. If I ever get the opportunity I will pipe at your graveside in Arlington National Cemetery, where some of the finest men I have known and have been an influence on me are laid to rest.
LTC (Ret) Robert D. Parrish, US Army
September 6, 1940 – February 16, 2018
National Tartan Day – April 6th
World War II (WWII)