Last night I went to a dinner held by the Puget Sound Alliance for Retired Americans (start time: 5 p.m.) at a Best Western Inn. I didn't realize until I got there that it was also a 90th birthday party for the coolest man in Seattle, Will Parry.
Parry was born just one year after Seattle's General Strike and his grandfather, Byron Phelps, was once city Mayor. Parry's life, recounted at dinner by family, friends, co-workers, and students, is a lesson in national and local labor history: He was raised going to Eugene V. Debs speeches and Woody Guthrie concerts; attended Washington State College; was radicalized during The Great Depression (when he saw that "workers were not valued, thrown out like yesterday's trash"); served in the Coast Guard during WWII; wrote for the Washington New Dealer; worked for 21 years at Longview Fibre as a member and lobbyist for the Association of Western Pulp & Paper Workers Local 817; and survived McCarthyism, testifying before the House Un-American Activities Commitee, and years of FBI tailing.
At the end of the party Parry, who at 90 looks quite strong and spry, picked up his guitar and played a few songs ("I'm still playing the same three chords I learned back in 1944"), including a rousing version of "Down by the Riverside," "Goodnight, Irene" (he saw Leadbelly play a while back in New York City), and "This Land is Your Land." (And again I wondered why that song isn't our national anthem. It makes everyone feel 1000 times better than "The Star-Spangled Banner." Or "America The Beautiful," for that matter.)
Parry, who only agreed to the celebration if it was a fundraiser for the movement, is still at work, writing a weekly newsletter, The Retiree Advocate. Here's a column of his from April, 2006:
Any Old Millionaire Will Do
Martin Luther King, Jr., is justly revered as a selfless champion of the poor and oppressed. Dr. King might find it ironic that Martin Luther King, Jr. county -- the county now named for him -- is overrun with millionaires.
TNS Financial Services, a British market research firm, reports that Martin Luther King, Jr. County now has 65,536 millionaires. among the nation's 3,140 counties, our county ranks twelfth. We're even ahead of New York County, with its pathetic 62,773 millionaires.
For some reason, we've never met a real millionaire. Maybe one of our our readers could put us in touch with one. With all those thousands of millionaires in the neighborhood, there ought to be one millionaire ready to bankroll the Puget Sound Alliance for Retired Americans. We wouldn't need the whole million -- just a couple thousand a month.
Any old millionaire can reach us at 2800 First Avenue, Room 262, in Seattle, right here in Martin Luther King, Jr., County. Our phone number is (206)448-9646.