- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2006

RICHMOND — Harry J. Parrish, chairman of the most powerful tax-writing panel in the General Assembly, died yesterday afternoon at Prince William Hospital. He was 84.

Mr. Parrish had been in critical condition at the hospital with pneumonia. His death was announced by Sen. John H. Chichester during a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee on Capitol Square.

Within an hour of Mr. Parrish’s death, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine ordered the Virginia flag atop the Capitol in Richmond lowered to half staff.

In the House of Delegates chamber, his desk was draped in black cloth and the message on its electronic vote display boards read, “In Memoriam, the Gentleman from Manassas, the Honorable Harry J. Parrish.”

Mr. Parrish, a Republican from Prince William County, had been in declining health the past two years but maintained a vigorous legislative schedule, including acting as chairman of the House Finance Committee, one of the most powerful leadership positions in the General Assembly.

Last year, Mr. Parrish warded off a Republican primary challenge for his House seat — payback from his party’s conservative wing for defying its anti-tax orthodoxy during the 2004 tax battle.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, recalled him as a man of courage and a gentle nature.

“He was a person who put Virginia first. He had a civility and a courtliness about him. I just hope there are more Harry Parrishes out there,” Mr. Kaine said in a telephone interview from Northern Virginia, where he was promoting his proposed transportation reforms.

Mr. Parrish, the House of Delegates’ oldest member, was in his 13th term.

He was born Feb. 19, 1922, in Fairfax County and moved as a child with his family to Manassas, then a small, rural town. He graduated from Osbourn High School in 1940 and later from Virginia Tech.

He joined the Army Air Force in 1942 and began pilot training in Alabama. He was assigned to the British Royal Air Force, where he completed his training.

He was part of an allied mission to fly lumbering transport planes laden with heavy supplies, weapons and ammunition from India into China over the world’s highest mountain range, the Himalayas.

The C-47s like the one Mr. Parrish flew took off from crude, sometimes muddy airfields in the Indian jungles and struggled to lift their cargo over icy peaks that doomed many flights. Because Japan controlled land routes through Burma, the airlifts over what pilots called “the Hump” were the only way to supply the legendary Flying Tigers, which fought off Japanese air attacks in China..

Mr. Parrish received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters. He left active duty in 1946 but flew as an Air Force reservist in the Korea and Vietnam wars before retiring as a colonel and command pilot.

In 2002, as one of few remaining World War II veterans in the General Assembly, Mr. Parrish helped secure Virginia’s $334,000 contribution to the National World War II Memorial in the District.

“I kind of regret us being the last state, but I’m glad we finally came around,” he said, pained that Virginia was the last state to contribute to the memorial.

Mr. Parrish was elected to the House in 1981 as part of an insignificant Republican minority. Before that, he served for 12 years on the Manassas Town Council and for 18 years as mayor. During his mayoral term, Manassas transformed from a town into a thriving, affluent city.

Through a total of 53 years in elected office, Mr. Parrish won abiding respect as a listener and problem solver from both Republicans and Democrats. In 2000, when the Republican Party ended a century of Democratic dominance in the House, Mr. Parrish became co-chairman and later chairman of the Finance Committee, where his evenhandedness endeared him to delegates and senators of both parties.

It was Mr. Parrish who began the tradition of outfitting members of his committee in forest green blazers on days when the committee met, said his lifelong friend, Sen. Charles J. Colgan Sr., Prince William Democrat.

“We’re best friends. He’s a great guy; he was a superguy,” Mr. Colgan said, struggling with his emotions minutes after Mr. Parrish’s son told him of the death. “He was a very moral man, very generous, very kind, very smart.”

Mr. Colgan and Mr. Parrish shared a passion for aviation as well as government. “He and I used to tell a lot of airplane stories,” he said.

So close was their bond, Mr. Colgan said, that they are the only Democrat and Republican in the General Assembly known to have held a joint fundraising event.

Mr. Parrish was willing to exert his independence from the Republican Party, even at the risk of his own party’s wrath and his prized House leadership post.

By two votes, Mr. Parrish’s committee in 2004 advanced a bill to increase taxes by about $1.4 billion. When the bill came before the full House for a decisive vote that April, Mr. Parrish was among 17 Republicans who sided with House Democrats to pass it. The vote was critical to ending a 115-day session that divided Republican legislators.

Besides his public duties, Mr. Parrish was chairman of the board of his family’s business, the Manassas Ice and Fuel Co.

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