Parker's feathered friends won't forget him


November 18, 1991|By John Steadman

The Bird of Happiness.

He left much too early, leaving a glorious scorecard replete with continual deeds of human kindness. No amount of persuasion will buy a smile from a child, but his presence alone was able to make it happen. A momentous source for achieving good.

Jamie Parker, returning from a mission of mercy after visiting a young leukemia patient, had an accident on a highway. His injuries were severe and he failed to survive. Now this afternoon his funeral is being held in Woodbine and the crowds will be there to help share the pain of a tragic loss that is deeply felt by family and friends.

For the last two years, he had been wearing an orange and black costume, a live caricature of a Baltimore Oriole, and representing the baseball team at a myriad of social functions, be they club meetings, birthdays, retirement parties and store openings. He would bounce, shuffle, bow, tumble, dance and gyrate.

Jamie The Bird was among a select group of bird-like play characters employed by the Orioles for special public relations purposes. They didn't have a prepared script but were told to improvise, to be imaginative and to create fantasy and fun.

That's the way it was when Jamie The Bird visited Josh Soth, age 10, a student at Sunset Elementary School in Pasadena. Little Josh is in his second relapse since being diagnosed with leukemia in 1986. Some days are more difficult than others but he doesn't cry or complain.

"There have not been too many happy moments," says his mother, Kathy, who for the last 13 years has been a member of the security force at Westinghouse. "But when 'The Bird' came to our house and went out in the back yard to meet Josh, I saw a smile I haven't seen in five years. The joy he brought to my son made me so pleased I choked up and cried."

The other children in the neighborhood were astonished that The Bird had come "all the way from Baltimore" to see Josh and to play games together. Mrs. Soth took pictures and was pleased when The Bird hugged her son and gave him a tiny peck and a chirp, or two, because The Bird doesn't speak when he's making appearances. That would destroy the illusion.

"He danced around for half-an-hour and I never saw Josh so pleased," remembers his mother. "The Bird just didn't run in our house, shake hands, spend a few minutes and leave. He told me, when the kids couldn't hear him, of a friend he knew who had leukemia at age 3 and was now 23. He was trying to offer us as much hope as he could."

Jamie The Bird autographed pictures, gave Josh a bag of gifts and left at 4:30 p.m. to drive to his parents' house in Carroll County. But en route, 20 to 30 minutes later, near Fort Meade, his car ran off the road and he was killed . . . The Bird who was full of life and wanted so much for his new-found friend, Jamie, to enjoy an afternoon of make-believe.

It wasn't until the following morning that a fellow employee at Westinghouse told Mrs. Soth about what had happened. She thought it was important to later call the family of Jamie The Bird and tell them details of his last visitation and how much it had meant to her son. It wasn't easy for anyone.

And then Mrs. Soth debated with concern over whether she should or shouldn't tell Josh that The Bird had died. It figured to be difficult and it was. "I explained to Josh that The Bird had made all of us happy but the accident resulted in The Bird dying and going to heaven."

How did Josh react? He was finding out from a caring mother that his friend-in-feathers, who had been so kind, was now gone. "Josh listened to all I had to say. Then he ran off to his room and cried."

The Bird who had made him excited and enabled him to temporarily forget his troubles and made him laugh would not be back. "The Bird was such a sweet, sweet person," she said. "I could tell this was what he wanted to do, to visit and spread joy. He even had me laughing and smiling and that isn't easy because of Josh's condition and the intensive chemotherapy."

Last night, Mrs. Soth and a co-worker, Carl Clause, who had arranged with the Orioles for The Bird to visit, went to pay their respects to Jamie Parker and to tell his parents how much his last act on this earth, literally moments before he died, had meant to a sick little boy. The Bird of Happiness will not be forgotten.

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