General Assembly

Hundreds Mourn Parrish, Dean of N.Va. Politics

Harry Parrish's coffin is carried from a memorial service at Grace United Methodist Church in Manassas.
Harry Parrish's coffin is carried from a memorial service at Grace United Methodist Church in Manassas. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 2, 2006

Hundreds who remembered Harry Jacob Parrish as a man who helped change Manassas from a distant Washington outpost to a growing, high-tech city turned out to mourn him in the town he was born in and then served for most of his life.

In 55 years as a Manassas council member, mayor and state delegate, Parrish, 84, who died Tuesday after a struggle with pneumonia, was the dean of the General Assembly's Northern Virginia delegation.

"There are enough senators here to make a quorum!" Sen. Charles J. Colgan, (D-Prince William), a close friend for 45 years, joked in a warm eulogy before the crowd of 550 gathered at Grace United Methodist Church in Manassas. The mourners included Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), former governor Mark R. Warner (D) and U.S. Sen. George Allen (R). Colgan and Parrish shared a passion for flying, and they would discuss it to pass the time on the two-hour drive down Interstate 95 to Richmond. "Harry always wanted to fly over Manassas," Colgan recalled, and he eventually did.

Colleagues said Parrish's greatest honor in state government was his leadership of the powerful House Finance Committee, one of the stickiest jobs in Virginia politics, raising money for state government. The eldest member of the General Assembly, he had been frail in recent years. He was hospitalized for several days in 2004, just before the start of the General Assembly session. Yet he still came to Richmond, where he played a crucial role in settling that year's 115-day budget standoff, helping organize a group of 17 GOP delegates to support higher taxes to pay for an expansion of state services.

"He put the people of Virginia first, even though he had to go against his own party," Colgan said.

The decision invited a Republican primary challenge for his House seat last year, but at 83, Parrish fended off his opponent and returned to Richmond in January for a 13th term. He got around the General Assembly on a motorized scooter but missed some days because of illness.

House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) recalled Parrish's regular attendance at a 7 a.m. Bible study club on Wednesdays. In 15 years sitting next to him on the Finance Committee, Parrish taught Howell how to get along with politicians he didn't always like. "Governor, I'm still working on that lesson," Howell said, looking at Kaine.

Parrish's influence on Manassas is clearly felt today, in his advocacy for the city's airport and its courting of an IBM plant in the early 1970s. "He was a genius with a pencil," former Manassas mayor Marvin L. Gillum, a classmate from grade school, said.

Parrish was born Feb. 19, 1922, in Manassas. Rising to the rank of colonel during World War II, he flew cargo planes over China and South Asia and received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal. He left active service in 1946 but later flew as a reservist in the Korean and Vietnam wars, colleagues said.

His political career began in 1951 with his election to the Town Council in Manassas, then a one-stoplight town of 1,804 people. He served 18 years as mayor before winning a seat in the House of Delegates in 1981, when the Republicans who now control the General Assembly were a scant minority.

Parrish is survived by his wife, Mattie Hooe Cannon Parrish; a daughter, Judith P. Ratcliffe; a son, Harry J. Parrish II; a brother; two sisters; and three grandchildren.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company