Foxhall Parker

Obituary of Foxhall Alexander Parker

Foxhall A. Parker, Biomedical Engineering Pioneer Foxhall A. Parker of Pound Ridge, NY and Vail, CO passed away on December 28, at the age of 94. His passing was peaceful, as befit a peaceable man; remembered for bone-deep kindness and a generous spirit; peppered with the abundance of dry wit that never left him even unto the end of his days. Soft-spoken, but strongly principled; Foxy always thought before he spoke: and what he had to say was worth listening to. Growing up in Katonah, NY (on the property that is now the Bedford Audubon Society’s Bylane Farm), surrounded by forests and fields, he came to love the outdoors and the natural world, which he explored on his demonic Shetland pony, Rocket; or with best friends Hughie Price and Billy Belden. At home, and during summers at Camp Timonous in Maine; he learned to ski and sail and hike, to golf and skate and cut hay -- as well as when to just stop and look around. Exploring the outdoors continued for Foxy through his student years at The Rippowam School, Bedford, NY, St. George’s School, Middletown, RI (Class of 1943); and most especially at Dartmouth College (Class of 1948) and The Thayer School of Engineering (Class of 1949) with the Dartmouth Outing Club. Airplanes and flying were other passions for Foxy Parker. He was a student at St. George’s when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and, like many other boys that year, he joined the ROTC at school. Immediately upon graduation, he entered the Navy to become a pilot. Instead, the Navy sent him to Dartmouth College and The Thayer; and he spent the next years dividing his time between New Hampshire and the V12. To his regret he never saw combat with the VS 835 squadron, but to his delight he learned to pilot every plane from a Steerman trainer to the Corsair fighters that became his specialty. While stationed in Pensacola, Florida, he performed nighttime aircraft carrier takeoffs and landings above the rough seas of Guantanamo Bay, practiced dogfight duels, and precision maneuvers. There was plenty of downtime in those postwar days, which he and his confederates spent on the water – sailing the Star-Class racing sloop bought used and then refurbished by roomate Tommy Barnes. Foxy went to work at Grumman Aircraft upon graduation. There he happily combined his love of airplanes and engineering; and continued to fly with the Naval Reserves at Floyd Bennet Field. He continued sailing, his love of boats and life on the water only growing. On a ski weekend at Stowe with mutual friends, Foxy met his love and his life, Helen Walker, of Bellport Long Island, NY. Their first date was a daysail on Long Island Sound. “I chased him until he caught me,” Helen remembers, and they were married on June 14, 1952. Foxhall Parker’s father, Morgan Parker, had invented the first disposable scalpel blades and handles. This invention revolutionized surgery; and led to the formation of the Bard Parker Company, a surgical equipment manufacturer. Upon their marriage, the Parkers moved in Westchester, where Foxy went to work as an mechanical engineer, manager, and later consultant at Bard-Parker (later Becton Dickenson) in Danbury Connecticut and, later, Fairfield New Jersey. In 1957 Helen and Foxy truly settled, in their Revolutionary War-era farmhouse on Honey Hollow Road in Pound Ridge, NY. Daughter Patricia Crawford arrived in 1960, and Mary Morgan followed in 1962. In 1967 there arrived the 42” Rhodes Reliant yawl aptly named “Obsession”. Daysails, weekend jaunts, and weeks-long cruises aboard this last bundle of joy introduced the family to treasured islands (Cuttyhunk, Block Island, The Thimbles), favorite anchorages (Tarpaulin Cove, Hamburg Cove, Edgartown) and endless brightwork. Yes, there were hair-raising anchor drags (“Daddy, why is that horse looking in the porthole?”; Woods Hole fog (“Mr. Parker, is it alright if there are boulders up here?”; and that endless brightwork (“that looks pretty good! Another 20 minutes and you can switch to the 360-grit sandpaper”). But mostly, the Parker family, including the dogs, loved the boat. Of course, the dogs’ favorite part was the dinghy rides to the shore, for the Elysian combination of walking, sniffing, piddling, and rolling in or ingesting disgusting decaying sea life while collecting pernicious sandburs. It’s hard to say what was Foxhall’s favorite: a fast reach across the flat seas of Fisher’s Island Sound in a brisk breeze; finessing the trim for the exact balance on each tack of a windward trek towards the Elizabeth Islands; or that perfect second or two of silence when the anchor’s finally set and the engine’s cut. Or it might have been the minutes that immediately followed – sipping a Martini in the cockpit, as the clouds reddened and the evening drifted down, the breeze dropping with it. The Parker family first went to Vail for a Spring-Break ski trip in 1968, and Foxy fell in love with March’s bluebird skies and deep powder. Riva Ridge was his favorite trail, and his swooping descents in Stein Erickson style --tried and tested on the Tuckerman’s Headwall and the slopes of Mount Moosilauke -- were a treat to watch. He took his last runs at the age of 89, swooping a little more carefully, but with the same joy as ever. Throughout his life, Foxhall’s devotion to treasured institutions and causes never wavered. His work at Bard Parker and Becton Dickenson gave him a near-prescient understanding of how the development of new technologies, the engineering to build them, and medicine should be coordinated, linked, and then combined. He was deeply involved with projects exploring this path at The Thayer School of Engineering and The Mary Hitchcock Medical School at Dartmouth. First, in the early 1970’s, there was the Dartmouth Horizons program, where projects in the nascent field of bioengineering were generated and supported. Then, upon his father’s death, The Morgan Parker Memorial Fellowship was established; its mission: to reward outstanding scholars in their work to apply engineering and creativity to the needs of the medical profession. In recognition of his efforts, Foxhall was named a Sylvanus Thayer Fellow, “in recognition of interest in, and commitment to, engineering at Dartmouth”. He also received the Heritage society award from The Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ Education Foundation; and was a lifetime member of the Dartmouth Society of Engineers. Later, he and Helen became involved in the class of ‘48’s alumni group, attending mini-reunions and ski trips, and forging life-long friendships with fellows Sam and Sally, Wilkinson, Bud and Barbara Munson, Pete and Anne Foster, Jack and Ellie Parke, and others. St. George’s School was also close to Foxhall’s heart. In the late 1980’s he was his class’s agent, and later, in 1989, joined the board of Trustees. During his 21 years of service, he was board secretary and treasurer, as well as a member of the Building & Grounds, Development, Investment, and Executive committees. He was elected an honorary trustee in 2010, and in 2018 was awarded the Howard B. Dean Service Award. Memberships: St. Matthew’s Church, Bellport Bay Yacht Club, Bedford Farmer’s Club, Bedford Golf and Tennis Club, Society of Manufacturing Engineers, Dartmouth Society of Engineers, U.S. Navy VS 835 squadron, U.S. Naval Institute. Foxhall A. Parker is survived by wife Helen nee: Walker, of Pound Ridge, NY; daughter Patricia Parker Mueller (Mark), of Vail, CO; and daughter Mary Morgan Parker Davidson (Ron), of EagleVail, CO. Foxhall was buried in a private service at St. Matthew’s Church, Bedford, NY. A memorial service will take place in the Spring. Memorial contributions will be gratefully accepted by: The Bedford Audubon Society / Bylane Farm: 35 Todd Road, Katonah, New York 10536. (914) 232-1999 or: St. George’s School / Geronimo Program 372 Purgatory Road Middletown, RI 02842 (888)- 422-5574
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