Acclaimed MSI scientist Parker succumbs
Parker is the reason those students have seen their classroom lessons come alive with field trips to Port Aransas for educational voyages aboard the R/V Katy at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute (UTMSI).
The father of the Marine Education Services program at UTMSI in Port Aransas, Parker died on Wednesday, April 6, 2011, in Searcy, Ark. He was 78.
The family held private services in Arkansas, and a public memorial service will be in Port Aransas at 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 4, at the Community Center.
Parker joined UTMSI in 1959 and served until he retired in 1994. His accomplishments during his service range from the establishment of the Marine Education Services program to the conception of the graduate degree program as well as scientific research that earned him international acclaim. He also served as director from 1974 to 1975, and as associate director and actassistant ing director during three transi- tion periods.
But more important to Thompson, “He was a friend for 51 years. Dr. Parker was a person who made a difference. As acting director and director of UTMSI, he was noted for honesty, integrity and achievement,” Thompson said.
“As a friend, we shared a sailboat; he gave the faithful Riley (a wonderful mutt) to my mother; and he was the person who introduced me to a very young lady who would later become my wife,” he added.
“His positive influence on the Marine Science Institute and on all his many students, employees and friends cannot be overstated,” Thompson said.
Parker also held faculty appointments in both the Department of Marine Studies (later renamed the Department of Marine Science) and the Department of Chemistry at The University of Texas at Austin.
Dr. Lee Fuiman, current director at UTMSI, said Parker was the first researcher in the UTMSI’s marine chemistry program, and developed a research program on stable isotope and organic geochemistry, which the National Science Foundation in 2000 regarded as “one of the greatest achievements in chemical oceanography in the last 50 years.”
Through the use of stable isotopes, Parker and his colleagues deciphered food-web structures in the Gulf of Mexico, particularly in the seagrass communities of the coastal bay systems. The use of stable isotopes in marine research, pioneered by Parker, continues in many of the ongoing studies at the UTMSI and at labs throughout the world, according to Fuiman.
Parker was named as recipient of the Alfred E. Treibs Award in 1996 by The Geochemical Society in honor of his achievements throughout his career in organic geochemistry.
A friend since graduate school at the University of Arkansas and later a colleague at UTMSI, Dick Scalan of Port Aransas said, “It’s a very distinguished award that’s only been delivered 15 times in the last 30 years, maybe even longer.”
Scalan said the award is international in scope, and although Parker was named the recipient in 1996, he was unable to attend the awards ceremony because of a broken leg.
“So, (the awards ceremony) was held in 1997, and he and I drove to Dever to a meeting at which he was presented the award,” Scalan said.
Coincidentally, Parker’s major professor during graduate school, Tom Hoering, was a previous recipient of the award, and later, one Parker’s students, the late John I. Hedges, was a winner two or three years after Parker, according to Scalan.
One thing few people know about Parker, Scalan said, is that he was almost expelled from graduate school in 1958 for having attended a political rally in downtown Fayetteville.
He was part of a protest against Gov. Orville Faubus that attracted a number of students to the town square.
“The state police, who were there protecting the governor, were being a little obnoxious,” Scalan recalled.
“One gal from New York handed Pat a sign to hold. He was just standing there with the sign while she went to confront the police,” Scalan said, and a photographer from what was then the Arkansas Gazette took his picture. The photo of Parker holding a sign that read, “Human rights first, then states’ rights” was published in the Gazette, and “didn’t set well with the graduate committee,” Scalan said.
It is no coincidence that the friends from graduate school both ended up in Port Aransas working at UTMSI. In 1974, Scalan said he had had his fill of working in the oil industry and called his best friend and said he needed a job.
“I was very fortunate to have had a fellow infinitely more intelligent than I offer me that job,” Scalan said.
At UTMSI, Parker served as the first graduate advisor and chair of the Graduate Studies Committee after having initiated the graduate program.
He and Dr. William E. “Bill” Behrens were responsible for designing and overseeing construction of the R/V Longhorn for the Institute.
“I’ll keep it simple - one word. Not really fair, but I tend to do it that way: e.g., Curly Wohlschlag = loquacious, Margie Wohlschlag = gracious, Pat Parker = unpretentious! Yea, that’s it,” Behrens wrote in an e-mail.
Behrens and his wife, Barbara, still live in Port Aransas.
“Working side by side with him for many years, I was hardly aware of all the accolades, honors and recognitions he got; he was just Pat,” Behrens wrote.
Not able to stick to the oneword rule, Behrens added, “And helpful. A small word, and he did things that seemed like just a little bit of help that, looking back, were of such enormous help.”
“Many memories are starting to flood in: field trips to Baffin Bay with our summer classes, cruises to the Arctic (one on a 450-foot Russian ship - a long story), and bringing back the Longhorn from Louisiana where she was built, combination sea trials, shakedown cruise, first research cruise (Capt. Jack Shanklin, Chief Scientist Pat Parker, cochief scientist and first mate (self-designated since there was no other ship’s crew) Bill Behrens, and half a dozen of Pat’s students,” Behrens recalled.
In 1974, Parker established the first formal outreach effort at UTMSI, the Marine Education Services program. Each year since then, this program has provided formal and informal education opportunities for literally thousands of classroom students, professional development for classroom teachers, and informal education programs for the general public, according to Fuiman.
Parker was born in El Dorado, Ark. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from The University of Arkansas in 1955, his master’s in chemistry in 1957 and Ph.D. in chemistry in 1959.
Parker served on the Port Aransas Independent School District Board of Trustees throughout most of the period between 1965 and 1977, according to PAISD. One year, when he didn’t file for office, he still won a seat on the school board as a write-in candidate, according to his family.
Parker was on the school board when the decision was made to build Port Aransas High School, which graduated its first class in 1980. He was an avid supporter of the idea of adding the school.
Parker also was co-owner of Coastal Science Labs, a small Austin-based business. The company’s Web site describes the business like this: “We are specialists in the analysis of stable isotope ratios of the light elements carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen and sulfur. Applications for this type of analysis range from food adulteration detection to the exploration for fossil fuels.”
After he retired, Parker and his wife moved to Arkansas where they took up the repair and restoration of a 100-yearold family home called the Thompson House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, Scalan said.
“The house was a complete wreck. It was leaning in two directions and the chimney was falling down,” he said.
Over a period of three or four years, Parker used jacks to level it, he replaced parts of the frame and dismantled the rock chimney (numbering all the pieces) and put it back together,” Scalan said. The Parkers did most of the rest of the restoration themselves, and in 2002 moved in.
That home, outside of Bald Knob, was where the Parkers were living when he died.
Bob Jones, former director at UTMSI, wrote in an e-mail, “Pat deserves all the credit possible for his enormous contributions to the MSI in research, high quality students, and administrative challenges. Let’s leave Pat where he belongs as one of the true giants of MSI’s history.”
One of Parker’s son’s Kevin, of Austin, said, “A key to the reason my dad did the kind of research that he did lies in the fact that he was a chemist surrounded by a lot of biologists many years ago at the Marine Science Institute. He found himself using chemistry to investigate ecological features such as food chains.” Kevin Parker works in the computer industry, but has a master’s degree in biology.
“There’s another admirable side to my dad that had nothing to do with his professional achievements,” said another son, Dan Parker of Port Aransas, who is a reporter/photographer for the Port Aransas South Jetty.
“He was a fun, cheerful and highly likable man who moved through life with a positive attitude, despite having a congenital condition that caused his bones to be highly brittle for many years. On and off, from the time he was a child to just this year, he suffered literally dozens of broken bones all over his body from simple falls. He spent many months in casts over the course of his lifetime. And yet, he maintained good humor and an optimistic, constructive outlook on life,” Dan Parker said.
In addition to his wife and sons Kevin and Dan, Parker is survived by another son, Ron Parker of Manchaca; daughterin law Michelle Christenson of Port Aransas, a grandson, Zach Parker of Port Aransas; and a brother, Max Parker, of Little Rock, Ark.
The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Jerry McDonald Foundation, P.O. Box 691, Port Aransas, TX., 78373.
Comments? Questions? Contact Mary Henkel Judson at email@example.com or (361) 749-5131.