DURHAM, N.C. – Former Duke All-American and three-sport letterman Clarence “Ace” Parker passed away on Wednesday morning Portsmouth, Va. He was 101 years of age.
A two-time All-America pick on the gridiron at Duke, Parker guided the Blue Devils to a three-year overall 24-5 (.828) ledger from 1934-36. Playing under Hall of Fame head coach Wallace Wade, Parker’s playing tenure included two Southern Conference championships (1935 & 1936) and a final national ranking of No. 11 in 1936. He twice received All-Southern Conference accolades and, as a senior in 1936, served as team captain and was named Duke’s Most Valuable Player following a 9-1 (.900) campaign with the lone loss coming to Tennessee by a 15-13 score in Knoxville.
Parker played halfback for Wade’s teams at Duke, accounting for 1,856 career yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground. He also established the school record for longest punt return with a 105-yard effort against North Carolina in 1936. Also a standout punter, Parker continues to hold the school’s single-game record for punting yardage with 804 yards on 17 punts versus Georgia Tech in 1936.
Parker was a second team All-America pick as a junior in 1935 before earning consensus first team All-America honors following his senior campaign.
In addition to his excellence on the football field, Parker lettered two seasons as a member of Duke’s baseball team. An outfielder, Parker batted .336 in 1935 and .337 in 1937 as the Blue Devils registered a two-year record of 42-10 (.808). Parker also lettered one season (1936) as a member of the Duke basketball squad.
Parker was born on May 17, 1912 in Portsmouth, Va. He was the only Pro Football Hall of Fame member to reach 100 years of age and, at the time of his death, was the oldest living former National Football League player.
A second round draft pick – and the 13th overall selection – of the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers in 1937, Parker led the NFL in passing in 1938, earned league MVP honors in 1940 and was a four-time All-NFL choice.
He missed three professional football seasons from 1942-44 while serving with the U.S. Armed Forces in World War II.
Parker also played two seasons of Major League Baseball with the Philadelphia Athletics, and became the third player in league history to hit a home run in his first major league plate appearance, doing so as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning off of Wes Ferrell of the Boston Red Sox on April 30, 1937.
Parker returned to Duke and served as an assistant football coach from 1947-65. He also spent 14 seasons (1953-66) as Duke’s head baseball coach, compiling a 166-162-4 (.506) overall record that included one Southern Conference championship (1953), two ACC crowns (1956 & 1957) and two College World Series appearances (1953 & 1961).
Prior to coaching Duke’s baseball squad, Parker served as the manager of the Durham Bulls minor league baseball organization for four years from 1949-52, serving as player-manager for the first three seasons. He would finish his professional managerial career with a record of 303-266 (.533) and twice was named the Piedmont League manager of the year in 1949 and 1951.
Parker is a member of six Halls of Fame, earning induction into the College Football Hall of Fame (1955), North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame (1963), Pro Football Hall of Fame (1972), Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, Duke Athletics Hall of Fame (1975) and Hampton Roads Sports Hall of Fame (2008). He was in the inaugural classes for both the Duke Athletics and Hampton Roads Sports Halls of Fame.
On Sunday, November 10, a viewing will be held from 2-4 p.m. at Foster Funeral Home located on High Street in Portsmouth, Va.
Graveside services will be held on Monday, November 11 at 2 p.m. at Olive Branch Cemetery in Portsmouth, Va. Afterward, a reception will be held at Elizabeth Manor Golf and Country Club located at 1 Ace Parker Drive in Portsmouth, Va.