If you would have given me fifty names of people I know, and you would have said, “Who is the least likely to pass away?” I would have said Floyd Parness. I saw him last week at a service here; he was perfectly fine, in better shape than anyone I know. So for all of you who cannot understand what we’re doing here, we’re all in the same state.
As far as we can tell, he died while he was running. I like to think that he never knew what happened. I like to think that he’s still running. And in our minds, he will always be that quietly inspiring runner who taught us how to run our own races.
Floyd Parness was his own combination.
He was a quiet/legend. Without any fanfare, he made a difference in many, many lives. Other people who do a lot less claim to have done a lot more.
He was quiet, but he could talk your ear off
He had old-fashioned morals, but he was anti-establishment and blasted old hippie songs.
He could be a man of few words, but he could give speeches that went on for 32 pages.
He wouldn’t push his opinion at you, but he had opinions on everything
He had all the answers but never told you the answers
He was humble, but he bragged about his kids.
He was involved with the most modern equipment in the world but he used an old typewriter.
Floyd Parness was his own combination.
He was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Charles, who everyone called Danny, and Shirley, He grew up with his sister Tina who has always been close. Our condolences go to Tina and Richard and Bethany, and his aunt Arlene and first cousin Bobby. For Tina, this is a special sadness, because the three other members of her first family are now gone. Our hearts go out to her.
Floyd went to Quinnipiac and then had several jobs. He framed houses; he was with the Housatonic Lumber Company for 10 years. Most of his career, 34 years, was at Sikorsky as a Project Analyst. He was an administrator in the engineering department. He worked on many secret projects, some based on Presidential directives and proposals. He wouldn’t tell anyone about things he was working on. As far as we know, he wasn’t a spy, but you know, it’s always the quiet ones. More seriously, Floyd kept all confidences in his vault. He could be trusted with anything.
A big part of what he will be remembered for was coaching. He coached his kids at soccer.
But then he came into his own as a Track coach.
He started as a volunteer and then became an official coach at the North Branford High School.
He started an indoor track team. He coached Cross Country, building a 5k course in North Branford. He would go out in the morning and clear the track and rake so the kids would be safe. He referred to the kids on his teams as “his kids”; he loved his kids and bragged about them constantly. One of them said, “He was like a dad to me.” He inspired them in countless ways.
He did so much in the community. He organized a road race for the Potato Festival. He was a Cub Scout leader. For ten years, he was a Volunteer with Northford Company 3.
He went to sleep at 8 and woke up at 4 in the morning. He had the most incredible work ethic.
And he was moral to his core. His life was all about everybody else.
But he also loved to relax. He loved camping. He especially loved the beach.
He had just retired; the retirement party was supposed to be on the day he passed away. He was saying, “See you at the beach.”
I saw Floyd all the time because he was here a lot. He came to our services all the time. I saw him last week. Let me explain that Jewish people have services every day, morning, afternoon and evening. Around here, we have a morning service and then one combined service in the evening for the other two. For a year after his father Danny died, Floyd came to services every day. In order to say the Mourner’s Prayer, called the Mourner’s Kaddish, you need ten Jewish adults. With great devotion and consistency, Floyd came every day for the year after his father’s death. But understanding how it can be hard to get ten in the evenings, he did not stop coming after that year was up, and often came to make sure that the mourners would have ten and be able to say the prayer. This always gave us a chance to talk, which is how I know so much about him. I cannot understand that I won’t see him here in the near future. I really cannot even fathom this.
It was one of Floyd’s combinations that his ex-wife Fran was one of his best friends. Fran and Floyd were very close friends and they were proud grandparents together. They were a big part of each other’s life. When Fran called me to tell me what had happened, I never heard so much pain in any voice in my life.
Of everyone here, it is his kids, David, Todd and Jen who are suffering the most. He loved his kids as much as any parent can, but he was also proud of the people they have become. He loved the families they have made, Brent and Jen, Paige and Todd, and David and Brenda were all dear to him. He loved his grandchildren Ethan, Madeline, Kayla and Charlie. He was a tentative grandfather at first, but with the encouragement of the kids and Fran, he was getting really good at it.
And he loved how much his kids care about people and what they’ve chosen to do in their own lives.
His kids went to him because he had perspective on life. He took the long view. He would say: “It’s just Castles burning in the sand.” Now since I’m from his generation, I can tell you he was doing one of these Floyd combinations, combining two old Neil Young songs.
Don’t let it bring you down
It’s only castles burning
So find someone who’s turning
And you will come around.
And the other song he was mixing in was
Hello, Cowgirl in the sand
Is this place at your command?
In his mixed tape, he was telling his kids, “It’s going to be ok.”
But I have to tell you the truth:
This is not ok.
Life seems way beyond our command
We might as well say what we’re all thinking, that this is unfair, and cruel, and impossible to bear.
One of the smashers is that he won’t see his grandchildren grow up.
And he won’t renovate the house in Rhode Island. He had a home in Charlestown that he was looking forward to fixing up and renovating.
And he won’t coach anymore.
And this is destroying me so much that I have to fight back. So I do have some comfort and I can say: He will see his grandchildren grow up and he will always be a coach and a mentor to the kids he trained. To his children and to all the kids he mentored:
He was so consistent, so together, that whenever you feel like you need him, he will be there, because you know, for sure, what he would say in any situation.
He will still be talking to you, quietly, but clear and straight.
And as you run your races, he’ll be right there, running alongside you, saying that you can do it.
Floyd Parness was a quiet legend.
We already miss him.
He was a righteous man.
May he rest in peace.
Let us say Amen.