Parks’ passing brought out the best in the University of Massachusetts

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The phrase “UMass community” gets used pretty often around here, particularly when there is a tragic loss. But as the passing of University of Massachusetts Minuteman Marching Band Director George N. Parks showed, such a thing does exist.

Though the news of the beloved director’s passing was broken to members of the band late Thursday night in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, it took only minutes for the news to spread. Whether it was via call, text or Facebook, those even loosely affiliated with the band likely got the news that night. Because when it came to Parks, there were rarely many degrees of separation.

For those who knew him or just saw him as he led the band, the level of intensity and heart he put into each performance was easy to see. He was a man who was at home atop a scissor lift or podium with a microphone, making a connection with every single person in the audience. Everyone who has seen the band perform has a Mr. Parks story.

It is for this reason that his passing revealed a community that surpassed the University. Within hours of the news breaking, it had spread from the grieving band in an Ohio gymnasium to alumni from decades ago and hundreds of miles away.

The next day, there was an event planned at The Kinsale bar in Boston to bring together former band members in his honor. A movement to meet the band as they returned to UMass was formed as well, though the band politely asked it not to go forward.

Profile pictures were changed, clips of his speeches at the Drum Major Academy and him leading the band surfaced on Facebook and a memorial for Parks has appeared on the west steps of the Old Chapel.

The outpour of support for the band has been remarkable and unilaterally positive.

Known for booing opposing bands when they appeared, the crowd at Michigan instead applauded the UMMB and gave them a standing ovation at the conclusion of their postgame show. Even inappropriate Internet comments have been virtually absent.

Although he was a charmingly awkward conversationalist one-on-one, Parks had unparalleled charisma and the ability to inspire not only college students, but the thousands of teenagers who attended his Drum Major Academy. His legacy, however, lives on, in the form of the George N. Parks Band Building, the perseverance of the band to perform at Michigan and in the countless memories of Parks’ 33 years at UMass – whether it was his “nature appreciation moments” – the time he dove into the campus pond or one of the countless times he dangled precariously off of a high ledge, those moments live on.

It was Parks’ willingness to put everything he had into the band that made such a strong community – and it shows. Like at any school, UMass continually tries to portray itself as a tight-knit community, even with a student body of over 20,000 undergrads.

But this weekend, this reaction, this man. None of it is for show.

The tragedy of this weekend showed how great a community this University could be. Unfortunately, it took the loss of the best we had to do it.

Unsigned editorials represent the majority opinion of the Massachusetts Daily Collegian editorial board.