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In Memoriam - Emil W. Parker

Emil Parker
Emil Parker - 1939-2000

Emil Parker, who retired last year from 31 years work as sports information director at Davidson, died Tuesday, July 11, of complications following heart surgery. He was 60.

Funeral services will be Saturday, July 15, at 2 p.m. at Davidson College Presbyterian Church, where he was a member. The family will receive friends prior to the funeral from 12:30 to 1:30 in the church parlor. Interment will follow in Mimosa Cemetery in Davidson.

Honorary pallbearers will be John Byrd, Tom Couch, Dave Fagg, Randy Kincaid, Keith Luxton, Jim Murphy, and Bob Price. Those wishing to make memorial donations in honor of Parker should direct their gifts to: Emil Wayne Parker Memorial Fund; c/o Davidson College; P.O. Box 1385; Davidson, NC 28036.

Parker's stature and achievements at Davidson in many ways symbolized the college's David vs. Goliath position in the world of Division I sports.

At 5'4", he listened with a smile to generations of "short jokes," but in the end came up as tall as the Wildcats in the world of Division I. Just a year ago he was inducted into the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Hall of Fame, becoming the first-ever member from the Southern Conference.

Though he had relinquished his full-time job as sports information director, Parker was still working part time in Baker Sports Center to update displays in the Nisbet Hall of Fame Room and to research old records.
Emil Parker
Parker in a typical game-time situation

He left behind a monumental legacy of accomplishment as Davidson's second full-time SID. He traveled to more than 30 states in covering more than 800 Davidson basketball games and 308 football games. He was the media coordinator at 10 NCAA Division I basketball first-and second-round games and regionals, and was media coordinator for three NCAA Division I soccer championships.

He produced more than 1,200 brochures and programs, and wrote more than 15,000 news releases. His 1978 basketball recruiting brochure was judged best in the nation, and several of his football brochures and programs received national and regional awards.

He was instrumental in creating the Davidson Athletics Hall of Fame in 1989, and he chaired the Wildcats' celebration of their 100th anniversary in college football in 1997.

He was generous with his time and resources, a gentle person who had no room in his heart for animosity.

Before he was hospitalized last week, Parker and his wife of 39 years, Iotha, had undertaken a three-week trip to Europe to visit World War II sites. His father, John V. Parker, died fighting with the Fourth Army in Germany when Emil was five. Though his memories of his father were dim, Parker conducted a lifelong quest to learn more about him. He had a drawer full of memorabilia from his father, and read the letters thousands of times that his father wrote back from the battlefield. He spent more than 15 years interviewing survivors of his father's infantry unit, and planned to write a book about its history.

His devotion to his father's extended family through annual Christmas visits exemplified his loyalty to relatives and friends. Iotha noted that Emil adopted her family wholeheartedly when they were married in 1961, and they considered him as blood kin. He never forgot a birthday or anniversary, and correspondence with friends was a regular part of his life. He took it upon himself to decorate his family's tree every Christmas, taking up to a week to arrange things just right. In doing so he built up an extensive collection of ornaments, each of which had special meaning. "He wasn't collecting stuff, he was making memories," explained Iotha.
Emil Parker
A young Emil Parker at the keyboard

While he thoroughly enjoyed the work at the college, at the time of his retirement Parker said he was ready to give up the long road trips and seven-day, 70-hour weeks during peak sports season in the fall and winter. He said the reason he put up with that hectic schedule, the thing that kept him going through the 2 a.m. bus rides back from Georgia Southern, was "the rush that comes from being a small college facing giants."

He explained, "Being at a school of just 1,600 students that honestly stresses academics, I think we get more satisfaction when we're successful than people who work at schools where post-season appearances are expected every year."

He also enjoyed developing stories about individual athletes, like a feature on basketball great John Gerdy '79 that made "The Sporting News," and the 1999 feature on the college's seven sets of athletic twins, which made it as far as the ABC Evening News.His assignments also helped him develop relationships with people who are regulars on the national stage such as Billy Packer, Jim Nantz, Al McGuire and Curt Goudy.

Parker grew up in Belmont and Charlotte, and got into sports journalism as a way to stay close to the activities he found himself to small to play. He reported on high school games as a stringer for the Charlotte Observer, and admittedly spent more time in college at Lenoir Rhyne in Hickory doing sports writing than was good for his GPA! Following his graduation in 1962 he joined the sports staff at the Charlotte Observer, and worked there five years before Davidson's athletics director Tom Scott hired him to begin work here. His first day in the office was January 3, 1968, the same day as a big game against nationally ranked Duke, and the day that the college announced that Sam Spencer had been hired as college president.

He arrived more than a month after the departure of John Kilgo, Davidson's first full-time sports information director, and in the midst of a basketball season in which the 'Cats were nationally ranked. There was just himself and two work-study students to handle a huge stack of unopened mail and the pleasant task of fielding almost daily calls from national media. It was a heady time for Wildcat fans, with sellout crowds and media frenzy surrounding the games at Johnston Gym and the Charlotte Coliseum. "Davidson was accepted as being on the same national level as places like UNC, UCLA and Indiana," Parker recalled.

The most significant changes affecting his work were the advent of women's sports at Davidson and the technology revolution. Davidson had 10 teams when he arrived at the all-male school in 1968, but now fields 21 men's and women's teams. Increased demands for statistics, improved communications technology and the instant communication capability of the internet also presented opportunities and problems.

His dedication to Davidson did not been unnoticed by the college family. A plaque in Baker Sports Center notes a substantial gift to that facility made in his honor. Parker also treasured continuing friendships with many of the work-study students who stuffed envelopes and honed writing skills under his tutelage, and he enjoyed the feeling of having contributed something toward their career success.

Through it all he was renowned for keeping his cool, for maintaining a gentle and professional demeanor in the face of victory and defeat. Davidson sports for him represented more than wins and losses. It was a lifestyle where the games were just the raison d'etre for friendships with colorful, honorable characters like Terry Holland and Lefty Dreisell, for adventure and travel, and a place where the job was far from over when the horn sounded and the crowd went home.

He is survived by his wife of 39 years, Iotha Ray Parker, two children, Jennifer(28), and John (22); his mother, Virginia Parker Edwards of Charlotte; a brother, Danny Hillman of Pineville, N.C.; and a sister, Janet Bostian, of Mooresville.

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