Obituary for David Parker
Longtime W&L Latin American History Professor Dies At Age 78
In a surprise twist to the tale of a somewhat larger than life man, David Parker, as it turns out, was not immortal. Though he had nine lives, and lived 12, he fell on Wednesday, November 23, 2022 and at 78, died quickly thereafter in Lexington, Virginia.
An unstoppably generous irreverent rascal, barrel-chested, belly-laughing, broken-and-rebuilt wise-owl of a man, David Parker will be remembered and loved for some of what he did, but a lot for who he was: The guy who was so generous he gave away the family computer even though it took years to save up for another one, and was still so cheap he'd design family vacations around where we could get the least expensive gas. A man who would wake up early on snow days before anyone could catch him and shovel out strangers' walkways, but who had no time for anyone he thought was putting on airs. The person who had lost most of his marbles, but with the three he had left, gave sage advice, recited poetry, and playfully inserted painful puns even in the throes of dementia.
Maybe some of his many dichotomies came from growing up in multiple worlds. David was born January 12, 1944 in Santiago, Chile, to Southern Baptist missionary parents, John and Ruby Parker. He grew up in Chile and graduated from Kent High School in Santiago in 1961. He then went to college in Waco, Texas, earning his bachelor's degree in philosophy, English, and history in 1966 from Baylor University.
After college, he worked in what was then called the "war on poverty" across central Texas as a counselor with underprivileged high school students, helping them get jobs, stay in school, and plan college and careers. And during this time, he demolished houses, using the pieces to build his own home and earned his pilot's license.
He married Phyllis Richards 52 years ago this week, on November 27, 1970, and obtained a master's in Latin American History at the University of Texas six years later. With his MA, David was awarded a Fulbright to research bishops and the politics of Brazil in the Arquivo Nacional in Rio de Janeiro. That year their son, Anson, was born. The family moved to Seattle, where their daughter, Jennie Nealin, was born, and where David earned his doctorate in Latin American History in 1982 at the University of Washington.
That same year, the family moved to Lexington where David taught Latin American History at Washington and Lee University, and they had their third child, Laura. During his tenure at W&L he served as president of the Southwest Conference of Latin American Studies. He encouraged students to research and write using original sources and documents and to present at professional conferences internationally in Mexico, Venezuela and Chile among other places. During the summers of 1985 and 1986, he conducted research in the Secret Archives at the Vatican.
He received a second Fulbright to Santiago, Chile, where he taught at Universidad Metropolitana de Ciencias de la EducaciÃ³n. On the way there, the family backpacked down the east coast of South America to its southernmost tip over several months in 1988 and returned via boat up the Amazon in 1989. David called that the best year of his life, and maybe for the first time, his family understood the richness of his diverse roots and global citizenship.
David was an adventurer. He traveled to Australia; North, South and Central America; Southeast Asia; Africa; and Europe. He particularly enjoyed traveling and being useful â€“ from coleading trips to the GalÃ¡pagos, to serving as a cook for an Australian team of ecologists removing invasive plant species. He spoke three languages fluently, each with multiple local dialects, and another two well, including German, which he taught himself by listening to operas.
In 1991, David had his first stroke. When he emerged, Phyllis asked him what he remembered and he said he was in the center of a place and couldn't see the edges clearly, but what surrounded him was the love of others. Indeed, our family was carried by the love and support of this community.
Much of David lived in between worlds, and outside of the expected. He could make almost anyone laugh but suffered debilitating depression. He was one of the strongest and also the gentlest of men. He was more stubborn than almost anyone, but was happy to change course based on the clear argument of a child. He loved low class jokes and highbrow music.
David's grandchildren brought him a special delight. On what he knew could be his last time seeing his Australian grandchildren, he wanted not to race through the joys of grandfatherhood. He said to Laura, instead of goodbye, "I'd like to take time to figure out how they like to love. Let's live like we have time on our side."
David is survived by his wife, Phyllis Parker of Lexington; his son, Anson Parker and partner, Sarah Ewald of Charlottesville; his daughter, Nealin Parker and husband, Alexander Bick, of Washington, D.C. with their children, Amelia, ZoÃ« and Elliot; his daughter, Laura Parker Thomson and husband, Nathanial Thomson of Sydney, Australia, with their children, Bezi, Eleanor and Theo; and his brother, Ken Parker and partner, Melissa Carroll of San Antonio, Texas. David was ready to leave, but, as it should be, we weren't quite ready for him to go.
In an interview for the first Fulbright, when asked what his goal in life was, he replied, "To become a kind and gentle old man." You nailed it, David Parker.
Arrangements for a celebration of life will be announced at a later date. David wished for his life to continue to grow beauty in the world. In lieu of flowers, if you'd like, please make contributions to Boxerwood Nature Center and Woodland Garden.