Jim Parker has lived beyond his expectations and completed a bucket list of adventures in recent months including trips to Norway, Portugal, the Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica, Tahiti and a trans-Canadian train ride.
It’s been two years since the longtime Mount Shasta family doctor and founder of the July 4th Fun Run and Walk first noticed voice changes that were the initial symptoms of bulbar ALS.
A fast moving form of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Parker wasn’t sure when he revealed his illness to the public in November 2012 if he’d live long enough to see another Fourth of July.
He was there and spoke eloquently during the dedication of the new Parker Plaza in downtown Mount Shasta in early June, 2013.
Then he walked the two mile course with Jacquie and son Nathan the morning of July 4th, the first Fourth of July after he stepped down as race director of the event that began in 1980.
When not traveling, he was even able during the summer and early fall to ride the old Triumph Bonneville motorcycle that he first purchased in 1970 while spending time in London during a break from med school.
Parker had sold the bike in the late 1970s and knew nothing of its travels after that, but it was returned to him fully restored in December 2012 thanks to the efforts of the Marrone family and other friends.
Today, Feb. 4, 2014, is Parker’s birthday and the first Dr. Jim Parker Day in Mount Shasta, based on a proclamation approved by the Mount Shasta City Council last July.
The council recognized Parker, a past Citizen of the Year, for his efforts with the July 4th Walk/Run, which contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past 33 years to downtown projects that “beautified, enhanced and transformed both the physical and spiritual aspect of the city.”
Life since his ALS symptoms began
Experiencing what he described in writing last week as “a slow linear decline with now inability to be understood or swallow,” Parker reflected on the difficulties and blessings of his life with ALS.
“There is joy knowing my son Nathan is coming this summer to work in Mercy Mt. Shasta Hospital as an ER physician having finished his residency at UC Davis,” Parker wrote. “So our town will have another Dr. Parker. I am a proud father.”
Unable to swallow, Parker said he has needed a feeding tube for weight stability.
The man who provided an amplified downtown Fourth of July clarion call to celebration and physical fitness for more than three decades, Parker wrote that the toughest part of ALS is “the frustration of not being understood with voice, which makes for slow conversation with writing but mostly this lack of energy.”
Page 2 of 4 - He said “the most surprising effect” of his ALS symptoms “is the fatigue and malaise which leaves me on a sofa much of the day reading and having visits with friends.”
An average survival time with bulbar ALS is one to two years, according to Parker. He considers it a blessing that, “With ALS I have had the opportunity to express my love in a more meaningful way with family and friends than with an unexpected departure. People have been most generous in expressing their feelings with me. Is feeling humble the right word?”
He wrote, “Being solely at home was not as satisfying as exercising my passion of traveling.”
During a brief visit to the newspaper office last week, Parker kissed his finger tips then drew them away from his mouth with a smile while talking about his three-week trip to Tahiti with Jacquie.
He and Nathan traveled together to the Galapagos Islands, and he spent time in an eco-lodge in Costa Rica.
Dr. Parker offered a final prescription of sorts, asking “senior citizens to ask their doctor for a POLST form. It is a powerful form to fill out because it directs how they wish to be treated at the end of life.
“I also wish to express my love and gratitude to so many who have allowed me to participate in their lives and this community.”
Dr. Jim Parker Day
According to the city council’s Dr. Jim Parker proclamation, since moving to Mount Shasta in 1979, Parker’s actions “changed the face of the community.”
It mentions Parker combining his passion with his profession to improve the health of the community; establishing Mountain Runners; founding the July 4 Run/Walk; establishing the annual Over the Hill race at Mt. Shasta Ski Park; being one of the first physicians in Siskiyou County to treat HIV and AIDS patients; founding the Volunteer Health Clinic, which utilized a “pay it forward” method of payment; and enhancing the beauty of the downtown area.
Then-mayor Tom Moore in July urged “all of the citizens of the City of Mount Shasta to join me on that day each year in recognizing the legacy of Dr. James Parker and committing to follow his example of volunteerism to keep improving our city and the lives of all of us who live, work or play here.”
Dr. Easy Rider
Parker got in some play time riding his restored motorcycle in 2013 thanks to some help from Ed Steele, who designed an adapter that made it easier for him shift gears.
Parker was thrilled on a chilly December morning at his Mount Shasta home when a group of friends gathered for the Triumph’s return 42 years after he first purchased it in London.
Page 3 of 4 - He said he had been inspired to buy it while watching the film “Easy Rider.”
Though he hadn’t ever been on a bike larger than a moped before that, Parker said he went to the Triumph dealership in London and bought a new Bonneville on the spot. While getting an explanation about shifting gears, Parker recalled asking, “Where’s the reverse?” He said they laughed at that question then, the same way his friends laughed when he told the story.
It didn’t take long for the Louisiana State University med student to figure it out. Starting at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning, Parker said he left London on the bike and “rode as fast as I could to Scotland.”
He recalled rides through Italy, Greece and the former Yugoslavia. He rode along the Rhine River in Germany and up to Amsterdam.
When he was ready to return to the states, Parker said he had the bike shipped by boat to New Orleans. Then he brought it with him across country when he relocated to San Francisco the following year.
He said he sold it to Brian Wallenstein in the late ’70s, shortly after he moved to Mount Shasta to start his family practice.
Mount Shasta contractor Chris Marrone said he bought the bike from Wallenstein and rode it for a couple years in 1990 and ’91.
Chris’s brother Dave said he kept the bike beneath a blanket in his living room for 10 years in Ashland.
“You have a motorcycle in your living room?!” one female friend exclaimed upon seeing it, Dave averred.
Dave said he pieced the bike back together after a carburetor fire burned the wiring harness.
Then another Marrone brother, TJ (Tony John), did a full body restoration and rebuilt the bike’s engine in Sebastopol.
Chris referred to TJ as “a pro restorer extraordinaire” who also painted the tank while one of his sons re-did the Triumph lettering.
Dave, who eventually relocated to Eureka, said the Triumph was “finally in the final stage of restoration” thanks to Mark at North Coast Cycle, “an expert mechanic” who put new carburetors on it and got the ignition working right.
Estimating the bike’s value at between $10,000 and $15,000 on the day it was returned to Parker, Dave said he was somewhat reluctant to let go of it.
Chris said it was during a motorcycle trip he made to Nevada with Keith Towlen and Michael Zanger in November 2012 that the bike’s path back to Parker started to take shape.
Zanger mentioned that Parker had lamented ever selling the Triumph.
“I know where it is,” Chris told Zanger.
Chris then got Dave in touch with Parker.
Page 4 of 4 - Also returned with the bike was the original purchase order, which showed Parker paid 880 pounds for it. He recalled the exchange rate at that time was 2.2 dollars per pounds, making the original purchase price close to $2,000.
Parker expressed amazement that the original paperwork was kept in good condition all these years. “I thought it might be valuable some day,” Chris Marrone said. “I bent Brian’s arm to get it.”
“Every day that’s not too cold I’m going to ride it and just enjoy the joy and thrill of riding a motorcycle,” Parker said that morning. “It will not gather dust.”
Last week he said he doesn’t expect to do any more riding and will pass the bike on to Nathan.