Student-actor filled Bird costume with joy Family wants funeral as 'upbeat' as Parker

November 17, 1991|By David Michael Ettlin

By all accounts, Jamie Parker was possessed by joy.

As one of the three main actors who portrayed the Baltimore Orioles mascot, he carried that joy around under a fuzzy orange and black costume and gave it away to children at Memorial Stadium -- even when they tugged at his tail.

Thursday afternoon, in his last appearance as the Bird, Jamie Parker shared a little of his magic by bringing a smile to a child in Glen Burnie battling leukemia.

Then his car ran off Route 32 on the grounds of Fort Meade, and James Patrick Parker was killed. He was 23.

At his family's home in Woodbine, near the border of Howard and Carroll counties, friends and relatives were looking back Friday on his short life and planning for a funeral they wanted to be in keeping with his spirit.

"What we want to do is celebrate what he was and who he was while he was here," said Jamie's father, James Thomas Parker. "We want the atmosphere of the service to be light, upbeat and happy."

Jamie was born in Jacksonville, Fla., where his father was briefly assigned while in the Navy, but largely grew up in rural Woodbine.

He attended -- and performed in plays and shows at -- Howard County's Lisbon Elementary School, Glenwood Middle School and Glenelg High School, graduating in 1985.

He portrayed Harpo Marx as a strolling performer at the now-defunct Six Flags Power Plant that summer and enrolled at Towson State University. He was a music major, but with Towson's curriculum geared more toward classical than pop, Jamie switched to mass communications with a good measure of theater courses.

What Jamie wanted to do with his life after college was a little uncertain. His family knew, though, that he did not want to "grow up."

Mr. Parker said his son was "Peter Pan -- because that was the attitude he had. . . . I can't tell you how many pictures we have with his finger in somebody's ear, fingers behind somebody's head. He had the pixie, Peter Pan type of attitude."

A fraternity brother told Jamie's mother, Phyllis Anne Parker, that he was "one of those rare people you meet in a lifetime that nobody has a bad thing to say about," Mr. Parker said.

At Leadbetter's Tavern in Fells Point, where Jamie played the guitar and sang most Monday nights, owner Thomas C. Cooper said, "He was such a wonderful kid, an honest individual and had an innocence about him.

"He was a Jimmy Buffett freak," said Mr. Cooper, recounting how Jamie would "bring in little parrots and hang them up in the air" to impart a Key West backdrop to the tropical rhythms of Buffett pop.

"He got people in a really good mood. It was really fun when he was around," Mr. Cooper said. "Monday nights are hard to sell, and Jamie sold Monday nights."

Jamie heard about Oriole Bird tryouts two years ago from Scott Robertson, a Towson State acquaintance who was working part time in the role. He got the job in July 1990, when Mr. Robertson and another Oriole actor left.

Eric J. Rommal, 23, a University of Maryland senior who shared the role of the Bird, said Jamie's humor always overcame the job's frustrations -- like the heat inside the costume, or people asking about the heat, jumping on the Bird, pulling on its tail.

"You can't say anything," Mr. Rommal said, "because the Bird doesn't talk."

But even without a voice, Jamie managed to imbue the Bird with his personality.

"He loved the job, loved it," said Stephanie Kelly, the Orioles' assistant community relations director. "I would always think of Jamie when there were appearances involving children because was great with kids."

The job of team mascot goes far beyond appearances at the 81 home games each year. The Bird is booked for about 600 other occasions, including shopping mall events, store openings, birthday and anniversary parties -- and visits to cheer up sick children, like the Glen Burnie leukemia patient on Jamie's last call.

"We have gotten an incredible amount of calls in our office," Ms. Kelly said. "It was unbelievable."

Among the callers were an officer from a Knights of Columbus group entertained recently by Jamie, who wanted to express sympathy to his family, and several Orioles players -- even pitcher Bob Milacki and his wife, Kim, who heard the news at their home in Arizona.

As much as he was grieving for his friend, Mr. Rommal was worried that some children would think from news accounts it was the Bird that died in the accident.

He said that the Bird is a fairly consistent character, regardless of who is inside the costume, although "a little bit of everyone's personality will come through."

"We want to get across the fact that there is just one Bird, but many people who portray the Bird. Unfortunately, part of the Bird was lost this week, and I don't know how we're going to replace him," he said.

Mr. Parker did not know where, in a world often running dry of smiles, his son acquired a reservoir of joy for sharing.

"I'd like to be able to tell you there was a simple answer -- he was brought up in a country environment, had good friends. Jamie has had that particular approach to life and to other human beings since he was about 5 years old.

"He has been entertaining, the ham, the class clown. . . . The world has always been his oyster, and his lot in it was to make other people laugh."

Surviving, in addition to Jamie's parents, are two brothers, Richard Douglas Parker, 25, an electrician who lives in Finksburg, and Christopher David Parker, a senior at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.; his grandparents, Lorraine and Charles Proctor of Silver Spring, and Sally and James Franklin Parker of Okinawa, Japan; and his nephew and two nieces, Zachary and Dyanna Parker of Finksburg and Samantha Parker of Norfolk.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. tomorrow at the Witzke Funeral Home, 5555 Twin Knolls Road, in Columbia.

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