The Great Irony of Saving a President’s Life. The Authors Collection.

Moments after Reagan was shot. James Brady lies wounded on the ground. AP Photo/Ron Edmonds.
Moments after Reagan was shot. James Brady lies wounded on the ground. AP Photo/Ron Edmonds.

Among the hats I wear is one that says “broadcaster.” I first worked behind a radio microphone many, many moons ago at my college’s radio station. Everything was “reel-to-reel” and there were tubes and transistors. Of course, now everything’s digital and satellite driven. But the human part is pretty much the same.

David R. Stokes
David R. Stokes

I had my own national satellite show a few years ago—that was fun, but these days I am an occasional substitute talk show host. In fact, I am doing a bit of that these first few days of October in Washington, DC. When I get the chance to do talk radio, I am inevitably drawn to author interviews. This was the case even before I wrote my first book.

The other day I interviewed a wonderful lady who, with her husband, wrote a book that should do very well. It’s about a day more than 30 years ago that anyone conscious back then certainly remembers—when President Ronald Reagan was shot on March 30, 1981. The book is called, In the Secret Service: The True Story of the Man Who Saved President Reagan’s Life.

Jerry and Carolyn Parr hadn’t thought much about writing their story. She told me that they really didn’t think there was enough there for a book. Jerry was the Agent in Charge of Mr. Reagan’s detail on that fateful day and there is an iconic photograph that captures the moment when he forcefully shoved the president into the limousine when gunfire erupted.

51ODJUNvR9L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_As it happened, Carolyn (who later became a U.S. Tax Court judge) was working at the IRS building across the street from the Washington Hilton Hotel, where Reagan was giving a speech to labor leaders. She went out to the sidewalk with a crowd to watch for the president to emerge and was an eyewitness to horror, compounded by the fact that she wasn’t sure if her husband had been hurt.

But they wondered if that be enough for a whole book.  I mean, it’s riveting and all, but after 10,000 words or so, what next? Well, it turns out that their story is more than enough for a book. And friends and colleagues down through the years encouraged them to write about it. Finally they did.

I was hooked on the book the moment I read the first pages about a nine-year old boy in 1939 who went to see a movie with his dad. It was called Code of the Secret Service and starred a guy named Ronald Reagan as Secret Service agent Brass Bancroft. The young boy in the theater grew up to be a real-life G-man. The actor grew up to be a real-life president.

This is what makes books—reading them and talking about them—so cool. Truth is not only stranger than fiction, sometimes its better.  Over the years I have interviewed probably 200 or more authors. I never get tired of hearing their stories and picking their brains about their process. President John F. Kennedy once remarked that he loved reading biography because it showed what made a person “tick.” I like to interview authors for the same reason.

Walk on a roof edgeAnd I am always looking for the next interview.

Oh, and after President Reagan fully recovered, Jerry Parr asked him, “Did you know you were an agent of your own destiny?” He told the president about the visit to that Florida movie house back in 1939, and how he saw the film many, many times thereafter and how it inspired him to become an agent like Brass Bancroft. Reagan smiled and in a typical use of humor replied: “It was one of the cheapest films I ever made.”

Please click the book cover to read more about David R. Stokes and his books, including Camelot’s Cousin.

 

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    David: I love stories that come full circle, and Jerry Parr’s relationship with President Reagan did just that. If you write it in fiction, it would be considered contrived. Now it is simply a great piece of irony and good fortune for both men.

  • Darlene Jones

    What a cool story! The connections between people always astound me – Six Degrees of Separation, eh?

  • Great story David. I’ll ck out the book.
    Just as you look for the next interview, I eagerly await your
    next article.

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