In Memoriam: Douglass Parker
One year ago today, Dr Douglass S. Parker passed away. Today I lay my personal headstone.
“Doc Parker,” as we called him, was a simply amazing individual. I was an undergraduate student of his at the University of Texas, and he was what every [American] kid pictures when thinking of a Classicist: the jackets, the ties, the cane, the pipe, the white hair and beard. He had two separate offices, one at the Harry Ransom Center and one in Waggener, and both were so full one could never wedge themselves inside. I myself never made it past the door; Doc Parker would instead say to me, “Amanda, wear your suit tomorrow, and I’ll sneak you into the faculty lounge for lunch.” So that’s what we would do, eat lunch and then stroll across the campus, me feeling so very important in my suit and such esteemed company.
During those lunches and walks, Doc Parker would tell me about playing jazz in Memphis, his service during the war . . . All manners of wonderfully interesting stories. He once paid me the great compliment of lamenting that I had not learned Greek and so could not help him with his translations . . . He also said, oddly enough (and so something I’ll always remember), that I reminded him of his ex-daughter-in-law. Evidently they’d been close, and he was sorry to have lost her in what I assumed was a divorce.
It was Doc Parker’s letter of recommendation that won my way into Emerson College. I never got to read it, but I know he said good things about me. Better than I deserved.
He would e-mail periodically to see how my writing was coming along. He had a few examples of it in his personal library, and now and then he’d say, “I came across this, thought of you . . .”
And I still have all the teaching materials from his courses. In fact, I appropriated some of them when I taught parageography (a phrase coined by Parker) at a summer camp. But I could never hope to do as well as Doc in guiding students through the labyrinth of world building. I was a pale imitation.
But I digress . . .
Doc Parker was one of my chief encouragers when it came to writing, and I might have given up if not for him. For whatever reason, he saw a spark in me, something I can only hope to live up to. I’ll never have his experience, or even a fraction of his wit, but I’m lucky—as all his students were and have been—he was willing to share those things with me. We lost something rare when we lost him.