“It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives.” ― James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson
May is usually a joyous month in our family. There are multiple birthdays and of course Mother’s Day. However, this year it was filled with bittersweet memories and wistful emotions.
A couple of months ago, our Davis school community lost a remarkable person. Michael (Mike) Parker knew how to forge deep personal connections with everyone he met. It turns out you don’t really need to know a person for a long time to miss them. I knew Mr. Parker for just a few years, at the tail end of his career as a school principal, but he became a good friend.
I can still remember the day we heard a Mr. Parker was going to be our school principal. There was already a lot chatter among the parents, mostly mothers like me, about this guy who was so notable that the school district was bringing him out of his retirement to be our interim principal.
“He must be so exceptional,” a friend whispered in my ear, as we waited in the school quad to meet this mysterious man.
I nodded. The rumors had been spreading for a while and I expected to see a man larger than life, a sort of Paul Bunyan of Davis. My first glimpse of him wasn’t encouraging. Well, he looks like an elderly grandfather. I almost sighed out loud in disappointment.
Then he approached me, put out his hand, and said, “Hi, I’m Mike Parker.”
Immediately, I was enveloped in his personal charm. As he introduced himself, he looked me in the eye and gave me his undivided attention. I felt as if I was the only person in that quad. In that moment he seemed to be larger than any legend. I felt I was in the presence of a unique individual, a one of a kind.
This immaculately dressed man was a natural leader. It was so evident from his firm handshake to his kind eyes and humble demeanor.
Mr. Parker eventually hired me to work in the beautiful Patwin Library and when both of us moved on from Patwin, we stayed in touch. I was lucky enough to be in his friend circle. At the center of our friendship was a young woman named Sarah. Sarah had Down’s syndrome but she was an avid reader and a star volunteer/worker at the library, meticulously shelving hundreds of books every week. She loved to celebrate birthdays and in Mr. Parker she found a kindred soul. Soon, I was celebrating her birthday with both of them. Pizza, cake and lemonade were on the menu. Who could resist? The company was even more enticing and all of us eagerly looked forward to our yearly luncheons. Even years after retirement, Mr. Parker was an admired public figure. Going out with him was like hanging out with the most popular kid. Everyone wanted to say hello. Mr. Parker was his usual self: patient, attentive and charming as he greeted former students, parents and other acquaintances who accosted him during his lunch.
Sarah and I weren’t the only ones who fell under Mr. Parker’s charm.
The students loved him, the parents found him open and engaging and the staff respected him.
“He really was a special man,” said former Patwin school secretary, Paula Horn. “We were a happy staff when Mike was there.”
He made an impact on everyone he met.
“He was fun,” said a former student Ajay. “Recess was always great with Mr. Parker.”
Gay Bourguignon is the current principal of Patwin and had this to say about Mike: “Mike Parker was a friend to all and always had a smile on his face. Mike had a way of making everyone feel like they were his friend. He had a great sense of humor and was always ready to share a funny story or experience. Mike was a devoted family man. He was so proud of Brian and loved watching him and coaching him in baseball. When the grandchildren came he was a devoted grandfather. Most of all he loved Michele. They had a true love story. We will miss you, Mike! Our hearts are with you, Michele.”
Kate Bowen, a former teacher at Patwin and close friend of the Parker family had these moving words, “I met Mr. Parker through his wife, Michele, when we were both upper grade teachers at Pioneer Elementary. Mike was a principal in Martinez, I believe, at the time, but the four of us (with Bob) became good friends sharing a love for education, Giants baseball, golf, and family.
When Mr. Parker became our “Interim” principal at Patwin, I saw him in a different light. First, he was a snappy dresser – crisply ironed button-down shirts always with a terrific tie. Second, he truly cared about our students or “youngsters” as he called them. His distribution of monthly birthday pencils, for example, meant that Mr. Parker had a one-on-one conversation with every single Patwin Hawk at some time during the school year. (Students with summer birthdays received a pencil during the last week of school). Organizing lunch-time intramurals was another highlight for students (at least one Spencer Bowen), where students were in control of their lunchtime activities – from drafting players to managing teams to demonstrating good sportsmanship. Mr. Parker provided these leadership opportunities, yet did so in a way that the “youngsters” had fun and developed a greater connection to the school.
“Mr. Parker was a devoted friend to many, beloved husband, father, and “Pops,” die-hard baseball fan (Go Giants), and lover of Yosemite. He bled blue for his Memphis Tigers and never turned down the opportunity to play a round of golf. He loved southern barbecue and a smooth Bourbon. He also had a sharp wit, matched only by Michele, making each and every outing a hoot. “
Hearing what Kate had to say about Mr. Parker made me realize how lucky I was to have known him. His legacy is (was) his deep connection to his students, parents and staff. Some people just leave an indelible mark on your life and soul and Mike Parker was definitely one of them.
RIP Mr. Parker. Gone but never forgotten.