Loyola Magazine

Protecting President Reagan

Loyola grad talks about recent memoir

Jerry Parr, M.S. ’87, saved Ronald Reagan’s life.

A man devoted to service, he was the Secret Service Agent standing next to President Reagan in 1981 during a speech at the Washington Hilton, when shots were fired. Parr took immediate action, making decisions that likely saved Reagan’s life. Parr tells the story in his new book, In The Secret Service: The True Story of the Man Who Saved President Reagan’s Life, co-authored by his wife, Carolyn.

Jerry and Carolyn Parr shared with Loyola magazine their reasons for writing a book, and how they incorporated faith into the story.

1. Why did you decide to write a book about your life? Have you always wanted to write about your experience?

I didn’t write about my experiences as a Secret Service agent for a long time, because I always thought I’d have to dish dirt about the men and women I’ve had the privilege of protecting over the years. I never wanted to do that. It wasn’t until I had been out of the Secret Service for several years that I was able to perceive the thread of God’s love running through all my life’s experiences, from my earliest childhood through my years in the White House, to my service as an ordained minister.

I finally realized I could share my experience in the Secret Service—and my life before and after— without having to write a “tell-all” book about the rich and powerful.

What was the hardest part about writing your book?

The hardest thing about writing my book was checking all the historical research. We used all my Secret Service Daily Reports (which Carolyn and I found buried in the garage), plus travel vouchers, a record of Air Force 2 from Vice President Humphrey’s detail.

How long did the writing process take?

From start to finish, it took Carolyn and me about three years to write this book.

How have you incorporated faith into your book?

It was easy for me to incorporate faith into the book because the hand of God has been on everything I’ve ever done. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was faith and love— God’s love, parental love, the love for my family—that has sustained me through some of my darkest moments.

What are some of the best responses you’ve received to your book?

One woman told us that reading the book changed her life. She had retired to care for a close relative who recently died, and thought she had nothing left to give… After reading the book, she felt inspired to serve, knowing she had gifts that were still needed in the world.

We have received emails and letters from a number of young Secret Service agents, saying my life inspired them to become agents.

What do you hope readers gain from the book?

I hope the book gives hope to young readers living in dysfunctional families; working-class adults struggling to make ends meet; and anyone who is a late bloomer (I graduated college at 31, joined the Secret Service at 32, saved President Reagan’s life at 50, and became an ordained minister at 59).

I also want to give hope to people who are retired, to let them know there is life after work.

Your entire life has been about serving others. What draws you to service?

I’ve always had a drive to protect and nurture others, from pulling turtles off the highway to serving homeless men living with AIDS.