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Clarence M. Parker

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Clarence M. Parker

Portsmouth - Clarence McKay "Ace" Parker, 101, a Portsmouth native, died November, 6, 2013. Mr. Parker was the son of the late Ernest R. Parker and Mabel H. Parker. He was preceded in death by his wife of more than 67 years, Thelma Sykes Parker; two sisters and three brothers. He is survived by his sister, Marion Pauline Miller of Jacksonville, Florida; and three nieces, six nephews, and numerous great-nieces and great-nephews.

Clarence Parker was a five-sports star at Woodrow Wilson High School in the early 1930's. He earned letters in football, baseball, basketball, golf, and track. In one weekend at Wilson, he led the baseball team to victory, he won the high jump in a track meet, and he shot a 71 for the victorious golf team.

Parker played football, baseball and basketball at Duke University in Durham, N.C. As the triple-threat tailback for the Blue Devils, he averaged over 5.9 yards per carry. When Parker earned All-American football honors at Duke in 1936, the sports editor of the Virginian-Pilot newspaper, W.N. Cox, called him the "Ace of them all." From that time on, Clarence Parker was known as Ace Parker. In honor of his accomplishments at Duke, the Ace Parker Award is given annually to the Duke player who displays unparalleled prowess and commitment to the team.

The Brooklyn Dodgers of the National Football League drafted Parker 13th overall in 1937, but he signed a contract with Connie Mack to play shortstop for the Philadelphia Athletics. In his first appearance at bat in the major league, he hit a home run against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. He became the third player in the history of major league baseball to achieve that feat.

Although Ace made it clear that baseball was his first love in sports, the Brooklyn Dodgers football organization continued to pursue him to improve their struggling team. At the end of the 1937 baseball season, Parker agreed to join the Dodgers, and he quickly showed that he could do it all. Prior to the Parker era, the Brooklyn Dodgers won one out of twenty games against their archrival, the New York Giants. The "Ace of them all" changed that with three consecutive victories over the Giants. He ran the ball, he passed, he punted, he kicked extra points, and he played defense. He usually played the full 60 minutes of each game, but in two games in 1938, he rested, and only played 58 minutes in each game. In 1938 he was All-Pro, and in 1940 he was the National Football League's Most Valuable Player. After many years coaching in the college ranks, the great Jock Sutherland left Pitt to coach the Dodgers. Not known for his kind words about athletes, Sutherland said, "Ace Parker is the finest all-around back and competitor I ever coached."

On October 22, 1939, Parker played in the first professional football game ever televised. He played quarterback and threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to lead the Dodgers to a 23-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. In a 1939 game against the powerful Redskins in Washington, he left the field to a two-minute standing ovation after having played on both offense and defense for a total of 57 minutes.

Ace was with the Dodgers in 1941 when World War II began; he immediately enlisted in the Navy. Following the war, he returned to professional football for two years, and played baseball for the Portsmouth Cubs and the Durham Bulls from 1946 to 1952. He coached football and baseball at Duke from 1947 until 1965, and he was inducted into the National Football League Hall of Fame in 1972. Clarence Parker was the oldest living member of the NFL Hall of Fame; he was inducted into a total of seven Halls of Fame.

Parker worked as a National Football League scout for the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers until he retired in June 1987. Following retirement, Ace enjoyed playing golf, often at the Bide-A-Wee course with his lifelong friend, the late Chandler Harper, or at his home course at Elizabeth Manor. He also participated in celebrity golf tournaments to benefit various charities.

The family would like to thank his loving caregivers, Angie Lynch, Heather Hurt and Amy Lynch; his loyal friend Joseph "Buddy" Lex; his friends Bambi and Ed Freeman; and his many friends at Elizabeth Manor Golf and Country Club. Each of these people provided invaluable and unwavering support to Ace and his wife Thelma.

Friends may pay their respects all day Sunday at Foster Funeral Home, Portsmouth, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., with the family being present from 2 to 4 p.m. A graveside funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Monday, Nov. 11th, in Olive Branch Cemetery by Dr. Wilbur L. Kersey. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, 206 High St., Portsmouth, Va. 23704. Any flowers may be delivered to Foster Funeral Home. Condolences may be registered at bwfosterfuneralhome.com.

Published in The Virginian Pilot on Nov. 7, 2013
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