Longtime coach Parker dies at 66

Published 2:31 pm Sunday, May 3, 2009

Francis Gail Parker, a former Franklin High School head football coach and an assistant coach of the 1970 Marshall University football team that perished in a plane crash, died Saturday at Southampton Memorial Hospital. He was 66.

Parker had worked for Virginia Farm Bureau since his departure from full-time coaching in 1976. He continued to coach on a volunteer basis.

A funeral service will be at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Wright Funeral Home with the Rev. Thomas Speight officiating. Burial will follow in Poplar Spring Cemetery. Visitation will be from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the funeral home.

Mr. Parker was born in Norfolk, the son of the late Gail Lee and Frances Mott Parker. He was a 1961 graduate of Oscar Smith High School, a graduate of Old Dominion College, and earned his master’s degree from Marshall University. He served in the Army Reserves. He began coaching baseball and football when he was 16 years old. His high school coaching career began at John Yeates High School in 1968. In 1970, he took a position at Marshall University as a freshman football coach and was one of four surviving coaches on the staff that was featured in the 2007 movie “We Are Marshall.” Parker left by car on a recruiting trip rather than board the plane that crashed while returning to Huntington, W.Va., after a game.

In 1971, he came to Franklin High School as a guidance counselor and football coach and served until 1975. He returned to his alma mater, Oscar Smith High School, as a guidance counselor and football and track coach from 1975 to 1976. In 1976, he began working for Virginia Farm Bureau, where he continued to work until his recent death. In addition to working full-time for Farm Bureau, he continued to serve as a volunteer football coach at various schools in the area. The schools at which he volunteered over the years include Southampton Academy, Franklin High School, Lakeland High School, Manchester High School, Chowan University and, most recently, Deep Creek High School.

Mr. Parker was a former triathlete, completing 49 triathlons, and continued to swim and bike until his death. He was a member of Courtland Baptist Church and taught Sunday school. His Sunday school class, the Jerusalem Bible Class, consisted of more than 50 members.

Survivors include his wife of 46 years, Jean King Parker; a daughter, Carrie Gail Parker of Clayton, N.C.; a son, Brian Whittaker Parker of Blacksburg; three grandchildren, Brittany Parker Alston, Brad Michael Alston, and Elizabeth Frances Alston of Clayton, N.C.; and two sisters, Diane P. Waggoner and husband, Tim, of Chesapeake, and Holly P. Bumgardner and husband, Mike, of Virginia Beach.

Memorials may be made to Courtland Baptist Church Building Fund, P. O. Box 148, Courtland, VA 23837.

See Wednesday’s print edition of The Tidewater News for the full obituary.