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Originally published May 19, 2013 at 5:29 PM | Page modified May 19, 2013 at 7:00 PM

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Seattle labor activist Will Parry dies at 93

Will Parry was a newspaperman, cardboard-box factory employee, labor activist and writer who devoted his life to radical and progressive causes. He died last week at age 93.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Will Parry, a labor activist and writer whose commitment to working people and social justice made him an inspiration to generations of progressive leaders, died May 13 at age 93.

Mr. Parry was a gifted writer and a passionate activist. He worked to promote his radically progressive ideas with a gentle and thoughtful demeanor. His colleagues said he was humble, dignified and insightful.

While he was teaching a community-college course, Mr. Parry wrote that for union activists “the most effective speaking is motivated by an honest concern for ... working people generally,” and friends and colleagues said he embodied that for seven decades.

He began his career as a journalist, writing for a Communist newspaper, The People’s World. In the 1950s, he was subpoenaed to appear before the local version of the House Un-American Activities Committee during the era of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

When Mr. Parry’s newspaper lost advertisers, he was laid off. So he went to work for a cardboard-box factory, where co-worker Bill Farris said he was known as a tireless advocate for his fellow workers.

Mr. Parry became a leader of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers. In negotiations, Farris said, Mr. Parry would spend as much time negotiating about work conditions as he would about money. The union later hired him to be its first lobbyist to Olympia.

“He was just a dignified, caring, but very principled activist for both the members of his union and for working people in general,” said Robby Stern, who worked with Mr. Parry at the Puget Sound Alliance for Retired Americans (PSARA), which Mr. Parry founded to take on issues such as Social Security and health care for seniors.

He was a precise and entertaining writer, mincing no words in his contributions to several newsletters throughout his life, most recently The Retiree Advocate. He even wrote playfully at times under the pseudonym Rap Lewis, which he made up of letters from his own name, said Minnie Caruso, who owns a printing company in Belltown.

“It was a private joke. Rap wrote some fine articles over the years,” Caruso wrote in an email.

After 16 years, he stepped down earlier this year as editor of The Advocate.

Mr. Parry, whose great-grandfather Byron Phelps was a mayor of Seattle, grew up during the Depression on Queen Anne Hill. When his father lost his small business, he began taking young Mr. Parry to see communist speakers, igniting in Mr. Parry a lifetime of fighting for radical causes.

Mr. Parry and his wife, Louise Parry, who died in 2006, raised two children on Beacon Hill. Jon Parry lives in Port Townsend, and Naomi L. Parry in Santa Barbara, Calif. Mr. Parry is also survived by a brother, Tom Parry, of Moxee, Yakima County.

In 2010, the Seattle City Council issued a proclamation honoring Mr. Parry for his “lifelong commitment, and work, to achieve social and economic justice for all the residents of Seattle.”

A celebration of his life is planned June 29 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Seattle Labor Temple, 2800 First Ave.

The Labor Temple was the site of Mr. Parry’s 90th birthday party three years ago. He insisted that the party be a fundraiser for the PSARA, then he took the stage with his guitar and led 400 attendees in song.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com. On Twitter: @EmilyHeffter

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