“I think we should go to the hospital.” — Secret Service detail leader Jerry Parr to President Ronald Reagan, March 30, 1981

Jerry Parr was just doing his job 40 years ago this coming Tuesday, and by immediately countermanding an order he saved the president’s life and became an unlikely American hero.

“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. Jerry was not only one of the finest Secret Service agents to ever serve this country, but one of the most decent human beings I’ve ever known. He was humble but strong, reserved but confident, and blessed with a great sense of humor. It is no wonder that he and my husband got along so well.” — Nancy Reagan (Secrets Service code name, “Rainbow”) on Jerry Parr’s courage

Almost DailyBrett knows that in crisis situations one’s life’s work can be ultimately judged by an under-stress decision made in minutes, if not seconds.

It’s not fair, but life is not always fair.

Jerry Parr (1930-2015) became the head of the White House Secret Service detail in 1979. Two years later, Reagan (code name Rawhide) had just spoken to the National Conference of the Building and Construction Trades of the AFL-CIO. Parr was escorting President Ronald Reagan when shots rang out outside the Washington Hilton.

At 2:27 pm John W. Hinckley Jr. fired six shots from a .22-caliber revolver at the president. Parr instinctively shoved Reagan into the backseat of “Stagecoach” and ordered the limo driver to “haul ass” to the White House.

“At Dupont Circle he (Reagan) started spitting up this blood, profuse amounts of red, bright, frothy blood. And I thought, ‘Well, what would cause that? Maybe landing on top of him cracked a rib. Maybe I punctured a rib.’“– Parr’s official statement to the FBI.

Parr then noticed Reagan’s lips were turning blue indicating based upon his training, bleeding in the lung. He quickly countermanded the order to drive to the White House, diverting the limousine to the Emergency Room at George Washington University Hospital.

The whole trip took three minutes.

After making a brave show of walking through the hospital doors, Reagan collapsed upon arrival.

One of Hinckley’s shots richocheted off the limousine door, entering the president under the left underarm. The bullet broke a rib, punctured a lung and the unexploded slug lodged itself within one-inch of the president’s heart. Reagan lost 50 percent of his blood through internal bleeding.

There is zero doubt four decades later that Parr’s training, leadership, instinct and superb judgment saved the life of the 40th president of the United States.

Looking back on March 30, 1981, your author is reminded the most vital public relations of all are personal public relations. Once you lose your good name and reputation, they are gone for good.

There was a President, demonstrating courage while fighting for his life.

There was a Secret Service agent, making a life-saving decision literally under fire.

There was a House Speaker, burying partisanship for the good of the nation.

There was a Vice President, demonstrating statesmanlike resolve.

And there was a Secretary of State, solidifying his place in history as America’s Sphincter.

The Lord Is My Shepherd” — Psalm 23

“I hope you are all Republicans.” — Reagan to his George Washington University Hospital surgeons

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures … .” — Reagan in his hospital bed and House Speaker Tip O’Neill down on his knees, together reciting a renowned Old Testament prayer

President Reagan with Thomas “Tip” O’Neill during a presenting gift of blackthorn walking stick, made in County Clare Ireland

Even though they were diametrically opposed politically two Americans of Irish descent developed a personal relationship, which was vividly displayed when Reagan was fighting for his life and House Speaker Tip O’Neill was praying for the president’s quick recovery.

Almost DailyBrett has rhetorically asked on more than one occasion: ‘Why can’t we bring back those days when we agree pleasantly to disagree?’

“The Most Basic Of All Rules”

“The country can only have one President at a time, and the Vice President is not the one.” — Vice President George H.W. Bush

“Only the President lands on the South Lawn.” — Bush making his unalterable decision final to his Secret Service contingent

When the shots rang out on that infamous Monday afternoon in Washington D.C., Vice President George H.W. Bush was speaking to the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association in Forth Worth, Texas. Upon hearing the news, Bush immediately returned to the nation’s capital.

Ironically, he was flying in the very same Boeing 707 in which Vice President Lyndon Johnson took the Oath of Office of the Presidency, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963.

Bush concurred with the plan to fly to Andrews Air Force base. He pushed back and refused to take a helicopter from Andrews to the South Lawn of the White House.

The imagery was wrong. The unspoken message was worse The 25th Amendment was not invoked. Ronald Reagan was still the president.

“I Am In Control”

“Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the president, the vice president and the secretary of state in that order, and should the president decide to transfer the helm to the vice president, he will do so. As of now, I am in control here in the White House.” — Constitutionally inaccurate Secretary of State Al Haig, uttering words that effectively ended his political career, March 30, 1981

Is he mad?” — Treasury Secretary Don Regan watching Haig from Situation Room at the White House.

Al Haig was flat-out misguided about the line of succession (as secretary of state he was fifth in line, not third). By shoving the Deputy Press Secretary Larry Speakes off the White House Press Room podium, a hot-and-panting Haig demonstrated to the world that he was power hungry, out of control and forever solidified his place in history as America’s Sphincter.

Almost DailyBrett was part of team responding to the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989. Your author taught Crisis Communications management at the university level and knows there are always personal winners and losers in any crisis.

We know looking back 40 years there are those who performed marvelously under fire, and there was one in particular who should have been fired right then-and-there.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/jerry-parr-agent-who-saved-reagans-life-dies-1444483676

https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/10/10/447473563/jerry-parr-secret-service-agent-credited-with-saving-ronald-reagan-dies

https://www.forbes.com/2011/03/29/ronald-reagan-shooting-anniversary-opinions-john-heubusch.html?sh=382df4146ded

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2019/05/26/reagan-on-the-living-room-wall19/05/26/reagan-on-the-living-room-wall/