BEAT BYTE: George Parker's America: Remembering a Boone County Statesman
- George Parker's AmericaRemembering a Boone County Statesman
By Mike Martin for The Columbia Business Times
On October 6, 2008, in what may have been his final speech before a democratic governing body, former Missouri state representative George W. Parker defended the legacy of the most cantankerous cuss of a voice of freedom that ever occupied these parts, a city government watchdog named Paul Albert.
Yes, Albert -- who died at age 96 in 2005 -- could be gruff and contentious, Parker told the Columbia City Council in its chambers that night. Just ask anyone who ever withstood one of his withering verbal assaults on bad government.
And yes, if somebody had asked me about Paul in those days, I might have been negative, said Parker, who died May 27 in Columbia at age 86.
But what Parker eventually learned -- and pay close attention to the senior statesman here -- was that Columbia was one of the only towns I had ever been in where a citizen acted like an owner of this country and personally did something about it.
There it was, the basis of freedom: taking ownership of your country and your life.
In some mysterious machination, Paul Alberts name had been removed from a park on land his family donated to Columbia. Council members were considering restoring the Albert to Albert-Oakland Park when Parker took to the podium. He was slow and deliberate, and I sat mesmerized in the front row. It was touching, really -- the Paul Alberts of this world dont have many defenders.
George Parker explained that he came to Columbia in 1958 and had been in politics since 1961, read minutes from the meeting.
When I was in the state legislature, Paul Albert would call me every Friday after I came home from Jefferson City, Parker told council members. Hed wanna talk for an hour, at least.
Albert helped get Parker Street named after George and I was so embarrassed, I didnt go to the dedication, he said.
But as he got older, Parker got wiser, and made some important discoveries.
I discovered there was no such thing as a free government without people who want to make it free, Parker told the council. There are millions of citizens in this country who enjoy the fruits of freedom, but dont vote and do nothing to keep themselves free. If people want to be free, they have to participate.
Freedom takes work, and Parker did his share. A three-term (1966-72) state representative who burst onto the Boone County political scene as an upset Republican victor against a sure-thing Democratic opponent, Parker went on to establish the nationwide Pachyderm Clubs as a consummate member of the Grand Old Party.
With loads of crossover appeal, he was a great politician. But few politicians are ever wise or introspective enough to become statesmen and if there was a true, contemporary Boone County statesman, my Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, and Green Party friends all told me, it had to be George Parker.
As a school board candidate in 2005, I sought his advice, and he told me something Ive measured candidates by ever since.
Dont get up there and first thing tell the people how many degrees you have, where you were born and where your children go to school, Parker said. Get up there and, very first thing, tell the people what youre going to do for them. And always, always, always thank them for their vote.
Not long ago, George Parker was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that spread to his lungs and his liver. On the occasion of his 86th birthday this May, with his head held high and a smile on his face, he said goodbye to his family and friends, once again embracing that rare, uplifting quality Ronald Reagan saw in the shining city upon a hill and Franklin Roosevelt regarded when he called on the American people to stop fearing fear itself.
Call it American optimism, that forward-thinking hopefulness every statesman and stateswoman knows is rooted in our desire to take ownership of our own life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
Even though he could be ill-mannered and made his share of mistakes, Paul Albert acted like he owned this country, Parker told the city council the night they voted to restore the full name of Albert-Oakland Park. If theres anything we need, its more people like Paul, who have the guts to ask the questions the rest of us are too afraid to ask, and who act like they care.
George Parker had the guts to fly bombing missions during World War II and become the first Republican to win a major Boone County election in nearly 100 years.
He also cared enough to stand up that night and remind our city council -- and by extension, our entire community -- that this great land is yours, mine, and ours.Our America: the country, the friend -- and the legacy -- George Parker leaves behind.A memorial service for George Parker will be held at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, June 6, at Columbia Unitarian Church.RELATED: