Parr, in charge of the protection detail the day of the shooting, was just feet away from Reagan when John Hinckley Jr. opened fire outside the Washington Hilton hotel on March 30, 1981. Parr, unaware the president had been hit in the chest, famously shoved Reagan into his armored limousine and ordered the driver to nearby George Washington University Hospital. His quick actions were credited for improving Reagan’s chance for surviving the serious chest wound.
Parr, described at the time by UPI as a “Walter Matthau look-alike,” told a Senate subcommittee he and other Secret Service agents never saw Hinkley before the shooting, but moved quickly to get the president out of the line of fire.
“And then he started coughing up a little blood. It was bright red, and I knew from my training that this was oxygenated blood. This is blood coming out of the lung,” said Parr, who subsequently received the Medal of Valor for his response in the shooting.
Parr was a Secret Service agent from 1962 to 1985, acting as special agent in charge for President Jimmy Carter as well. When Parr retired from the Secret Service, Reagan joked, “Are you going to throw me over the couch?” referring to the day of the shooting.
“Our lives will never be quite the same,” Parr told UPI five years after the shooting.“There are no open wounds, but there are scars — memories of what could have happened if the right decisions weren’t made.”
“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,” she said. “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.”
White House Press Secretary James Brady, D.C. police officer Thomas Delahanty and Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy were also wounded in the shooting. Brady died in 2014 at age 74. His death was ruled a homicide as a result of the shooting 33 years earlier.