The Last Good-Bye

I received a phone call from Ed Parker Jr. between 5 and 6am Sunday morning. Ed Jr. told me his dad had died at the Hawaii airport. “What do you mean?”… I said. “I was just with him yesterday and into the early evening. Say it is not true.” I was instantly depressed. As soon as I got off the phone, I started to cry, uncontrollably. I went into the bathroom, so I would not wake up my wife Nancy or our two sons, Anthony and Angelo. That didn’t work. In less than ten minutes, the bathroom door opened and there was my 8 year old son Anthony, seeing his dad cry for the first time in his young life. I tried to comfort him and put him in bed with Nancy. I went downstairs to call Brian Hawkins, Jeff Speakman, Tony Martin, and Barbara Hale. All of us trained every Thursday night in the W. L.A. school with Mr. Parker. We all decided to meet at Jeff’s apartment in Santa Monica later that day to talk and support each other to the best of our ability.

I started to think about everything that happened yesterday, Saturday, at the W. Los Angeles school. We had 2 seminars that were taught by Mr. Parker. The first one was for our kids, 5 to 12 years old. All the kids showed up to be with Mr. Parker, including my two sons Anthony, then 8yrs old and a purple belt and his little brother, Angelo, who was only 4 years old and a white belt.

When Mr. Parker showed up, the class and I were anxiously waiting for him to start teaching. He called me up to be his dummy, which had done numerous times over the years. At that point, I had been studying with Mr. Parker for over 23 years. But, something was very different today; he was not at all himself. The first technique he demonstrated on me was Five Swords, one of the most popular techniques of all kenpoists. I stepped toward him with my right foot as I threw a right hand vertical punch to his face, as I have done so many times in the past. He blocked like he always did, with his right arm, to my right forearm and then he hit me, in the face with his right hand sword, so hard that he split my lip, from the inside as my teeth, hit my inner lip. The blood was running inside my mouth and I was swallowing it as fast as I could, so the kids would not see any blood on my face. Mr. Parker looked at me with that look that says, thank you and I’m so very sorry for that. In hindsight that was my last going away present from my dear friend. I knew then he was not doing well, at all. He and I recovered quickly and no only else knew what had happened.

When the class was over Mr. Parker walked very quickly over to a nearby bench and sat down. I walked over to him and he asked me with a very sincere look on his face, “How did I do, Jack?”

If I may use a line from Mr. Parker’s book Inside Elvis, as I looked into his eyes the pathway to his soul was open, he was reaching out, for help not sympathy. I was powerless to help him, and it grieved me. There’s no more helpless feeling, than to stand by a friend, you want to help and not know how. There was a terrible feeling of urgency, to do something, anything.

Now, remember he is the 10th degree Grandmaster of the International Kenpo Karate Association and I was only a 4th degree black belt at that time. This was the last day Mr. Parker was to be in the dojo on this side of eternity.

Many black belts today should learn to be as humble as Mr. Parker was on his last day on this earth, after all. He had given this world, I can hear, well done my son.

Knowing what I know about Mr. Parker, he is on the other side, working out with his very dear friend, Elvis Presley. After Mr. Parker asked me, how did I do? I assured him the kids thought he was great! He said Jack, I can’t thank you enough, you have always been such a loyal friend. At that moment all of the kids, came by to shake his hand, and thank him for the class. The last one to come by was my son, Anthony, as he thanked Mr. Parker. Mr. Parker said, “Here is your certificate, for the class and may I have your purple belt, for a moment? Then Anthony took off his belt, and gave it to Mr. Parker. He then signed the belt and gave it back to Anthony. At that time Mr. Parker, heard little Angelo, crying in the back of the room, he said, Angelo, come here please, what is wrong? Angelo, said, “I’m not going to get a certificate, for the class, because I was told to stay in the back of the room.” Mr. Parker asked, Were you in the room for this whole class? And Angelo said, Yes, Sir, I was. Then come over here and get your certificate and please let me see your white belt. Mr. Parker signed the belt and gave the belt and certificate to Angelo. You should have seen the look, in both of their faces, at that moment. I will never forget, the passion and love Ed Parker had for everyone but especially the little kids.

Those two belts are the last known signatures that Mr. Parker gave to anyone. They are in my safe. It is impossible to look at them and not think of this wonderful, last day of Mr. Parker’s life that he spent with me and my two youngest sons.

After the teaching was over we all were invited to a Christmas party dinner at one of the student’s home on December 15, 1990.

I remember being with Mr. Parker, eating at the party, he had just picked up a very large bowl of Chili with lots of meat in it. He looked at me and said, “ I know what you are about to say. It is the same thing you have been saying about what I eat for the last ten years.” Yes, Ed. I know you have heard me say this before but you and I know, that you are not doing very well. Ever since the 1988 tribute that we had for you, you have been going down hill and I am very worried about you. Jack, “I know how you feel. But I am leaving from here to pick up my wife and we are going to LAX to fly to Hawaii for 2 weeks. That will recharge my batteries again and I will be as good as new. I do have some concerns about my mother, who is getting up there in years and not feeling very well. I had this strange feeling that I am not going to see, her again. The fact is that he did not see his mother because he died, at the airport before he could see her. She said later, it was just like Ed to come home to die so we here in Hawaii, could have a funeral for him at his home. Ed Parker always said, “That my heart is in Hawaii but my pocket book is in California.”

It was now time for Mr. Parker to say his good byes to everyone at the party. Then Randy Streeter and I walked him out to his car. Randy said, “Goodbye Ed”. And I gave him the last Kenpo big bear hug, for all of us, who really knew him and loved him, for the great God fearing man that he is. I then said something to him that I had never said before. In over 23 years of saying goodbye or I’ll see you later. I said, “God Speed my dear friend”. I unknowingly gave him the last goodbye from the Kenpo family that loved him so very much.

A few short hours later, I received the phone call from Edmund Jr. that Mr. Parker had died.

Written by

Jack Autry lives in Los Angeles, California. He is the father of 5 children: Jack Jr., Dan, Tammi, Anthony and Angelo. Jack received his black belt from Ed Parker. He currently holds the rank of 8th degree black belt and has been a practitioner in Kenpo for over 45 years.

1 Comments

  1. Robert Shadpour says:

    Very touching story.  I cannot even see the screen to write this.  I don’t even know the late Mr. Ed Parker, Sr., but I know him now through the pure eyes of Jack Autry.  I am amazed that Jack remembers all these to the details.  But I just realized, Jack, you always speak from the heart and the heart always remembers. God Bless you. Robert Shadpour