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In honor of Dr. Death

My sophomore year, I lived in the Saybrook tower downstairs from Robert Parker. It took a while to learn that was his name. Everyone called him Dr. Death.

His black cape and walking stick were famous in the Saybrook courtyards and dining hall—and beyond, I later learned: Dr. Death was the booming-voiced announcer for the Yale Precision Marching Band and the spooky organist at the annual Woolsey Hall Halloween concert.

Now, Parker’s friends have an idea that could send chills down your spine: they want to endow the annual Halloween organ performance of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor in his name.

Back in 1980, I didn’t know that Parker—who graduated in 1982 and earned his masters in music from Yale in 1985—was a serious musician. All I knew was that he hated the three-chord (or one-chord) punk and new wave blasting from my suite, and he used to fight back by blasting amplified organ music.

Now we’ve learned that Parker faces a much worse rival than the Ramones and Plastic Bertrand.

“Bob is struggling with MS, and it’s a battle he is fated to lose,” writes his friend and former YPMB compatriot, Howard Stovall ’84. “Casting about for some way to honor him and the way he enriched our Yale experience,” Stovall and friends came up with the idea to endow the annual Halloween Bach organ concert.

A named endowment costs a minimum of $100,000. “We need our extended family of Yale musicians to band together and pool our resources to honor Bob,” Stovall writes.

Adds Yale Bands director Tom Duffy: “Let’s get that word out that Dr. Death is ‘vulnerable’ at the moment and see how many people would ante up to make a pledge.”

Stovall is collecting pledges by e-mail:

“I will never forget,” he writes, “the chant of ‘Death, Death, Death!’ in 1984 (my senior year)—with upperclassmen knowing who we were shouting about, and freshmen looking around in trepidation.”


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under Robert Parker, Dr. Death, Yale Bands
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