BILLINGS - It would be easy to produce a docuseries on Bruce Parker's sports impact across all corners of Montana.
Parker's wife Lisa has confirmed that the Hall of Fame athletic director passed away early Friday morning in Billings after a long battle with multiple illnesses. Parker was 64.
Most are thrilled to enter one Hall of Fame in a lifetime. Parker had been inducted to so many it became a bit of a running comedy with him. He'd casually let the media know, "Hey, gang, I'm being inducted to another Hall of Fame."
Among his entries are the NAIA Hall of Fame, National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, Carroll College and MSU-Billings. He was a nine-time Frontier Conference Athletic Director of the Year.
While at Carroll, Parker presided over an unprecedented six national football championships. One of my great Bruce Parker memories was actually after a national championship loss.
A rain-drenched, mud-soaked game in Rome, Georgia. Afterward, he loads us onto buses -- everybody still dripping -- headed for charter planes at the Chattanooga, Tennessee airport. Fast forward to near midnight -- some folks still wet aboard one loaded plane -- and everybody is ordered to get off. The flight is overweight.
On the spot, Parker had to orchestrate all the football and TV equipment to be shipped back to Montana by semi truck so the plane could make weight for takeoff. A week and a half later, through December snowstorms, the truck arrived. First in Billings, then Helena. Parker called to make sure our equipment was there safely.
He graduated from Billings Senior High School and later Eastern Montana College (now MSU-Billings), then worked 22 years in Montana State's athletic department. After his Carroll run, the sun set on Parker's athletic director career at Rocky Mountain College in his hometown of Billings.
"I can still remember doing high school games at Daylis Stadium, and walking up to the press box at Herb Klindt Field to do the Shrine Games with you, and those were very difficult (to navigate)," Parker told MTN Sports as he resigned his full-time position in 2018.
During his tenure at Rocky, Parker was instrumental in the renovation of RMC's Herb Klindt Field and also a driving force behind establishing the NAIA’s Division I Women’s Basketball National Tournament in Billings.
After years of battling diabetes and other illnesses, Parker was granted a kidney transplant in 2020 after a wait of nearly three years. Though his health declined, his sports passion continued to red line.
Fans could hear him doing TV and radio color commentary for high school and college games. He was scheduled to handle color duties just a couple weeks ago for the Montana Television Network's broadcast of Montana's East-West Shrine Game, but health kept him out of the booth.
Truth is, Parker's eyesight had also been fleeing him, which made his color commentary so incredible. He could fake it like a pro, shifting attention from the field to all those he'd befriended throughout Montana.
"Bruce, what did you see on that play," I'd ask.
"Offensive line was great, Scott," he'd reply. "But wow, when was the last time you had dinner at Lydia's Supper Club in Butte?"
The one person Parker couldn't praise enough was Lisa. She was his rock and his travel companion. His eyes and ears. And, down the stretch, his physical strength.
"I have the greatest wife in the world and Lisa has been part of everything that I've done," he said after his Rocky retirement.
His memorial service is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday, July 6, at Rocky's Herb Klindt Field.
Though Bruce Parker is gone, you have to believe his Hall-of-Fame tour is far from over. It's only appropriate such a colorful Montana sports giant says farewell entering a Fourth of July weekend.