It was a fitting end to a life devoted to the education of young people of Maine.

Although he was unable to be at the graduation ceremony because of declining health, John Russell Parker was there in spirit Friday as the Sanford High School class of 2011 received its diplomas.

His family said Mr. Parker, the school’s former longtime principal, was aware that students were graduating that day. The Springvale resident died shortly after the ceremony at age 86.

“He organized a lot of high school graduations over a number of years,” said a daughter, Janet Sawyer of Augusta. “Graduations were always special for him.”

Mr. Parker grew up in the Washington County community of Danforth. After graduating from Danforth High School in 1942, he served in the Navy during World War II, then returned to the United States to pursue his college degree.

He graduated from the University of Maine in Orono in 1950 with a degree in secondary education.

Mr. Parker started his career as a teacher, but served as principal of Mattanawcook Academy in Lincoln from 1956 to 1961 while completing his graduate studies at UMaine.

His next assignment took him to School Administrative District 6 in Buxton, where as its principal he became involved in the construction of Bonny Eagle High School.

In 1965, Mr. Parker became principal of Sanford High School and Regional Vocational Technical Center, a post he held until his retirement in 1983.

His daughter said about 250 to 300 students graduate each year from Sanford High, which means Mr. Parker was involved in the graduation ceremonies of more than 5,000 students.

“That’s a lot of lives he touched,” Sawyer said.

She said that as a school principal, her father commanded respect among his students, but tempered that firmness with a genuine love of his school.

Sawyer said her father always went out of his way to show support for his students by attending as many school events at Sanford High as possible.

“There was a sense among his students that he was to be respected,” his daughter said. “But he would always show up for school events. He went to everything.”

After his retirement in 1983, Mr. Parker and Holly, his wife of 55 years, traveled extensively in their recreational vehicle. They enjoyed spending time with their nine grandchildren.

Mr. Parker also liked to take his two sons, Daniel of Cumberland and James of Kennebunk, on hunting and fishing trips to Washington County.

“It really wasn’t about the hunting and fishing. It was more about being together,” his daughter said. “I think it was a special time for all three of them.”

During his retirement, it was not uncommon for a former student to recognize him in a crowd of people, whether it be at a store, restaurant or at a hospital.

“Mr. Parker, my principal,” would be a common greeting.

“It happened all the time,” his daughter said.

“He was a good teacher to all of us, even as children,” she said. “He saw the gifts of each one of us, and to him it was OK to be different. He supported that. I feel that carried over to his students.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]