Kay Parker had a single request for her funeral—that there be a recurring theme for those in attendance to be showered with the admonition of doing something for others and inspiring friends to do the same. Simple and inspiringly graphic. Everyday words worthy of eternal proclamation, poignantly stated, a resonating chorus for a world deeply in need of an unending dose of altruism.
For someone who spent her life-extending a helping hand, she suffered a cruel fate, but soldiered on with deep faith, never questioning why the curse of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS or “Lou Gehrig’s disease” became her life-shortening burden.
“I’m living with ALS not dying with ALS,” was her daily refrain as she underscored two objectives as long as she was able. One, she lived life to the fullest and two, she endeavored to keep abreast of her charities, making sure there was no slack allowed with their goals and objectives.
She was Athens’ Mother Theresa.
Fortunately, she and her husband, John, a retired Coca-Cola executive, had the means to support many of her initiatives, but she surely was born with the giving gene. There are countless folk out there with resources but not inclined to part with any of their accumulation—as if they believe they can take it with them on that journey into the unknown.
To define this noble woman, you only need to appreciate one of her enduring preachments, “Don’t just write a check, get involved. That she did with the greatest of indulgence.
In what turned out to be her last weekend, she had reached the point to where she could not talk. She had to use her iPhone to communicate. She discovered that a young staffer at the hospital was an enthusiastic Georgia football fan. She immediately texted John to reserve tickets for the young man for the 2022 football season. All the attendant said was, “I love the Dawgs, but I can’t afford tickets to the games.” As Kay lay dying, she made his day. Such is the legacy she leaves behind.
Her hairdresser confided that his critically, ailing grandfather, lived in Germany, his days numbered. When he lamented that he could not afford a flight to see him, it was Kay at her typical Good Samaritan best. She arranged a ticket for him to travel home in time to see his grandfather before he died.
The Parkers, with a deep and abiding love of the educational process, became connected with deans and academics across the UGA campus. They wrote checks and they got involved with the law school, graduate school, forestry school, business school and athletics. John and Kay looked for opportunities to support academic initiatives like some people collect art or hunt big game.
When the history department aspired to host a summer program involving the Historical Black Colleges and Universities, there was a problem—no travel budget. Kay said, “We will help.”
Those involved with the University of Georgia’s Hall of Fame Chapter, which supports academic programs for at risk student-athletes at the two public high schools in Clarke County, remember Kay’s classic bidding during a live auction.
When she gained control of the bidding on one item and all other bidders dropped out, the auctioneer was about to close out the bidding, Kay raised her hand again, in essence bidding against herself. The auctioneer then asked if she knew what she was doing, Kay smiled and said, “Oh yes, but it is not a problem since it is for a good cause.”
At Christmas time, the Parkers hosted international students on campus. Going back to their country of origin was out of the question for them financially, but Kay opened up her home to them, cooked them a hearty and generous meal. Her grateful guests were fulfilled that she had taken the loneliness out of their lives during the holidays.
She adopted the catchphrase of Kirby Smart and the Georgia football team, “Attack the day.” Every day she reached out to someone, somewhere. She found time after her diagnosis to take a hot air balloon ride in New Mexico, something she always wanted to do. She took friends on a Caribbean cruise.
Her Facebook account was overflowing with messages for other ALS patients, encouraging them to find sunshine in their lives, never once embracing the downside, never allowing a maudlin stance. She was always maintaining that she was “so blessed” and never asked, “why me?”
So many people who know his story, have always been inspired by the humility of Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees who, when stricken with ALS, said upon being honored at Yankee Stadium as his life ebbed away, “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” No advancement for a cure has been made since Lou Gehrig’s famous speech more than 80 years ago.
Kay Parker identified with Lou Gehrig’s humble statement.
She preached what she practiced.