Harvard University’s crew coach of nearly 50 years, Harry Parker, set his former oarsmen and coxswains straight.
“What you think you’ve gotten from me, these are things you learned from rowing,” Parker said last night under the watchful eyes of two stuffed moose at the Harvard Club of New York.
For most of the evening, Parker, sporting a crimson Harvard blazer, listened as more than a dozen still-fit alumni toasted and roasted him.
Dominant themes were his sparseness with words (“the Sphinx talks more,” quipped one); his obsession with Yale (“Harry didn’t care if you lost all the races as long as you beat Yale,” said another); and grueling workouts.
“I still have a 46 pulse,” said Bill Ackman of Pershing Square Capital Management LP.
Ackman conceded he was “not a great rower,” addressing the 240 guests including his parents. He was the stroke on the third boat.
“I was in the 99 percent,” said the billionaire hedge fund manager. “People know me as the guy that was very motivated. I’ve been inspired to be in the 1 percent my whole life.”
Ackman played tennis in high school and ranked ninth in New York State. But at the first meeting of the Harvard tennis team, it became clear to him he wouldn’t get one of the two slots open, he said. Rowing under Parker helped him polish a trait of which he is particularly proud.
“When I meet with CEOs -- I met with one today -- I say, ’I’m the most persistent man in America,’” Ackman said.
Funding Third Boat
He is also a Harvard crew supporter. He has funded third-boat trips to Florida for spring training.
“I wanted to help the third boat get the same opportunities as the first boat,” he said.
Harvard crew alumni Dick Cashin, managing partner of One Equity Partners LLC, and Fritz Hobbs, chairman of Ally Financial Inc., who rowed for Parker on two Olympic teams, organized the tribute. The event fell five days after Parker’s 76th birthday (he has no plans to retire, he said) and a week and a half after Harvard won the men’s Championship Eight at the Head of the Charles Regatta for the first time since 1977.
Devin Zimmerman, a Los Angeles-based executive producer for Boxer Films and the only woman speaker, was coxswain of the men’s varsity team in the 1980s. Once she ran into a buoy. Later that day Parker handed her a piece of paper.
“It said something like: You hit a buoy. That is inexcusable. You need to pay attention. Don’t do it again.”
“Whenever I’m struggling with something, all I have to do is remember that,” Zimmerman said, “and I snap into place and dig in and get it done the right way.”
(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)