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Jerry Parr, Secret Service agent who helped wounded Reagan, dies

The agent who saved Reagan's life
The agent who saved Reagan's life

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Story highlights

  • Jerry Parr helped save President Ronald Reagan after he was shot by John Hinckley Jr.
  • Parr directed the presidential motorcade to a hospital after seeing blood on Reagan's handkerchief
  • Parr was 85 and died of congestive heart failure

(CNN)Jerry Parr, a Secret Service agent who helped save a wounded Ronald Reagan during a 1981 assassination attempt, has died, his wife said Friday. He was 85.

Carolyn Parr said her husband died of congestive heart failure, three days short of their 56th wedding anniversary.
    Jerry Parr was the lead agent the day John Hinckley Jr. shot Reagan and three others. After hearing six gunshots, he grabbed the President by the shoulders and pushed him into the car. Agent Ray Shaddick shoved Reagan into the back, made sure Reagan's legs were in the car, and slammed the door shut.
    At first Parr had the limousine headed to the White House, but Reagan's blood was on a handkerchief pressed against his lips, so Parr redirected the car and the followup vehicles to George Washington Hospital.
    Reagan spent two hours in surgery and was hospitalized for about two weeks. One of the doctors who treated Reagan said if the car had gone to the White House, the President would have died.
    The bullet that hit Reagan ricocheted off the car and hit him below the left armpit.
    "If we had been a split second slower, he could have been hit in the head," Shaddick told CNN in 2011.
    Parr didn't notice the small wound as he checked Reagan in the car but once he saw the President splt up blood, he knew they had to go to the closest hospital.
    Parr and his wife co-wrote a biography of him called "In The Secret Service: The True Story of the Man Who Saved President Reagan's Life."
    According to a website for the book, Parr was a Secret Service agent from 1962 to 1985. He was the special agent in charge for President Jimmy Carter and for Reagan. After he retired he became a minister.
    Nancy Reagan said Friday that Parr was "one of my true heroes."
    "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."
    Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy said in a statement that "Jerry was someone that every Secret Service agent felt like they knew."
    "Perhaps it was the countless times you saw the footage of Jerry shielding President Reagan and pushing him into the limousine or the many stories that were written about the brave and historic actions that Jerry took that day," Clancy continued. "Regardless, Jerry Parr was a man that every Secret Service agent was well aware of what he did for not only the Secret Service, but more importantly, his country. Jerry Parr's actions on March 30, 1981, not only saved the life of President Reagan, but Jerry's actions preserved the institution of the Office of the Presidency."
    Parr was inspired to become a Secret Service agent in part after seeing the 1939 movie "Code of the Secret Service." The star of the picture? Ronald Reagan.
    "I did tell him about it once after the assassination attempt," Parr recalled four years ago. "And he told me, he said, 'Well, it was really the cheapest movie I ever made.' " Some reports say Reagan also called it the worst movie he ever made.
    The Parrs have three daughters and four granddaughters.