2009 0511 parker 01

former Herd coach Gail Parker

FRANKLIN, Va. -- Gail Parker, Marshall University's freshman football coach in 1970, died Saturday in Southampton Memorial Hospital. He was 66 years old.

Parker was the coach of the 1970 Marshall freshman team.

He flew with the Thundering Herd to the Nov. 14, 1970, game at East Carolina, but wasn't on the chartered jet bringing the team, coaches, staff and supporters back that crashed short of the runway at Tri-State Airport in Kenova. All 75 aboard died.

After the game, Parker traded places with assistant Deke Brackett, who had driven to the game with assistant Red Dawson. Parker and Dawson heard about the crash on the radio near Greensboro, N.C. They were driving to Ferrum, Va., on a recruiting trip.

Parker coached the rising freshmen, holdovers from 1970 who didn't make the trip and walk-ons in spring 1971 under Young Thundering Herd coach Jack Lengyel. He was not retained by Lengyel in the fall.

He was a 1961 graduate of Oscar Smith High School (Chesapeake, Va.), a graduate of Old Dominion University and earned a master's degree from Marshall University.

Parker began his coaching career as an assistant at John Yeates High School (Suffolk, Va.) in 1968. In 1970, he left the Chargers for the Marshall job. In 1971, he went to Franklin High School as a guidance counselor and football coach and served until 1975. He returned to his alma mater, Oscar Smith High School, as a guidance counselor and football and track coach from 1975 to 1976.

In 1976, he began working for Virginia Farm Bureau. He continued to serve as a volunteer football coach at various schools in the community.

Survivors include his wife of 46 years, Jean King Parker; one daughter, Carrie Gail Parker of Clayton, N.C.; one son, Brian Whittaker Parker of Blacksburg.

A funeral will be conducted at 2 p.m. Wednesday in Wright Funeral Home in Franklin with the Rev. Thomas Speight officiating. Interment will follow in Poplar Spring Cemetery. The family will receive friends from 7 to 9 p.m. today at the funeral home and suggests memorials be made to Courtland Baptist Church Building Fund, P.O. Box 148, Courtland, VA 23837.

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