Mary Evelyn Parker

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Mary Evelyn Parker
Standard political file of former Louisiana state Treasurer Mary Evelyn Parker.jpg
Standard Parker political file picture (1967)
Louisiana State Treasurer
In office
1968–1987
Preceded by A. P. Tugwell
Succeeded by Mary Landrieu
Personal details
Born Mary Evelyn Dickerson
(1920-11-08)November 8, 1920
Fullerton in Vernon Parish, Louisiana USA
Died January 17, 2015(2015-01-17) (aged 94)
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Resting place Burial site not mentioned in obituary
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) William Bryant Parker (married 1954-1965, his death)
Children Mary Bryant Parker Smith

Anne Graham Parker Crochet
Four grandchildren

Residence Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Occupation Government official

Insurance agent

Religion Southern Baptist

Mary Evelyn Dickerson Parker (November 8, 1920 – January 17, 2015)[1] was a Democrat who served as the Louisiana state treasurer from 1968 to 1987, the first woman to have held the position.[2]

Prior to her tenure as treasurer, Parker, a long-term resident of Baton Rouge, held several appointed positions in state government. She was an integral part of the Long faction and a close friend and strategist for both Governor Earl Kemp Long and his wife, Blanche Revere Long, and later for Governor John J. McKeithen.

Early years and education[edit]

Mrs. Parker was born to Racia E. Dickerson (1888-1967), a sawmill worker originally from Texas, and the former Addie Graham (1891-1979) in Fullerton in Vernon Parish, Louisiana in western Louisiana.[1] She grew up in nearby Oakdale in Allen Parish. She attended Northwestern State University (then College) in Natchitoches on a scholarship recommended by one of her Oakdale High School teachers, Bill Dodd, later the Louisiana lieutenant governor and state superintendent of education. Miss Dickerson received her bachelor's degree in 1941. She was a social worker in Allen Parish from 1941 to 1943, while she also obtained a diploma in social work in 1943 from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

During World War II, Miss Dickerson was from 1943 to 1947 the personnel administrator for the United States War Department's Camp Claiborne north of Forest Hill in Rapides Parish. She briefly taught English at the high school level and was from 1947 to 1948, the editor of the Oakdale Journal.[1]

A real political player[edit]

In 1948, Earl Long asked Miss Dickerson to narrate his radio campaign speeches. She had first caught Long's attention on her debate team at Northwestern State University, where she once helped beat powerhouse Harvard University, according to her daughter, Mary Bryant Parker Smith.[1]

Lieutenant Governor Dodd urged Long to appoint Miss Dickerson to the position of executive director of the Louisiana Department of Commerce and Industry. While holding this position, she was also from 1948 to 1952 the Democratic national committeewoman from Louisiana and a delegate to the 1948 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which nominatged the successful Truman-Barkley ticket. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina won Louisiana's electoral votes that year as the nominee of the States Rights' Party, but in Louisiana, he was the official Democratic candidate.

In 1952, Miss Dickerson ran for the statewide position of register of the state land office, when the incumbent, Lucille May Grace, stepped down to run unsuccessfully for governor. She ran on the Long ticket, with Carlos Spaht of Baton Rouge for governor and John McKeithen, a young lawyer from Columbia and an Earl Long floor leader in the legislature, seeking the position of lieutenant governor to succeed Bill Dodd, who ran unsuccessfully in the gubernatorial primary. Another Long ticket candidate was the choice for state attorney general, Joseph A. Sims of Hammond, but he lost to Fred S. LeBlanc of Baton Rouge. Miss Dickerson was defeated by the anti-Long choice, Ellen Bryan Moore of Baton Rouge; indeed all candidates on the Long statewide slate fell short.

Miss Grace, as a Long candidate, but one distrusted by Earl Long for his own reasons, returned in 1956 to unseat Mrs. Moore in the Democratic primary. She died in office a year later. Mrs. Moore returned to the post in 1960 and served until 1976, when the position cease to be elective under the new Louisiana Constitution.

On October 31, 1954, Miss Dickerson married William Bryant Parker (1915-1965) of Baton Rouge, a son of George Martin and Dorothy May Parker. Sadly, the marriage lasted less than eleven years, for Mr. Parker died in May 1965, at the age of forty-nine.[3] The Parkers had two daughters, Mary Bryant Parker Smith and Anne Graham Parker Crochet. Widowed at forty-four, Mrs. Parker did not remarry. She has four grandchildren, Adam Smith, Bryant Smith, Mary Evelyn Smith, and Parker Crochet. She has four great-grandchildren, Summit, David, Caleb, and Rachel Smith.[4]

During a period when she was not in political office, Mrs. Parker was a successful insurance agent from 1952 to 1956 and a member of the prestigious Million Dollar Roundtable, the first woman in the United States to achieve that distinction.[4]

Mrs. Parker was chairman of the White House Conference on Children and Youth in 1960. She headed the Board of Public Welfare from 1956 to 1963, a position which brought her into access with destitute people and impacted her political thinking.[1] She was a president of the Louisiana Conference of Social Welfare. She was a member of the board of directors of the Women's Hospital and a trustee of Episcopal High School, both in Baton Rouge.

Helping to elect McKeithen[edit]

In the 1963-1964 gubernatorial race, Mrs. Parker was a key operative in the campaign to elect John McKeithen, then one of the state's three public service commissioners. McKeithen's campaign was managed by Blanche Long, and Mrs. Parker delivered speeches on the candidate's behalf. One of her high-powered speeches — and Dodd had taught her speech at Oakdale High School — televised across the state was called "All that Glitters Is Not Gold." The title referred to a line from Shakespeare, but it was really an effective attack on the "reform" record of McKeithen's intraparty opponent, former Mayor deLesseps Story Morrison. In her stern, tough, no-nonsense demeanor, Mrs. Parker was in fact playing the role as "hatchet woman" for the McKeithen forces. A similar newspaper ad entitled "The Myth of Mr. Morrison" featured one side of the page "Morrison Claims" and opposite that "The Truth Is".[5]

In the first McKeithen term, she was rewarded with a position in the Division of Administration.

Writes Dodd, in his memoirs entitled Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics:

"As a teacher [in Oakdale High School], I had taught her how to speak; as a legislator, I had gotten her a scholarship that gave her a college education [Northwestern State]; and as lieutenant governor, I had found her a big job in our administration. She was a wonderful speaker and a good administrator, but she must have been a born ingrate."[6] The latter remark referred to Mrs. Parker having undercut Dodd in his gubernatorial campaigns of 1951-1952 and again in 1959, when he lost out to the return of Jimmie Davis to the top spot in state politics.

Election as treasurer, 1968[edit]

In 1967, Mrs. Parker donned the hat of "efficient administrator" and ran with McKeithen's support for state treasurer. She retained the services of a fledgling press secretary and consultant named Raymond Strother: it was the first campaign that Strother, later one of the most successful campaign organizers in Louisiana and throughout the South, ever managed. Strother has worked almost exclusively for Democrats, including Texas U.S. Senator Lloyd M. Bentsen, Jr., and former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes.

Mrs. Parker was the first woman to be elected treasurer of Louisiana.[7][8] She ran to succeed 32-year incumbent Andrew Patrick "Pat" Tugwell, Sr., who had announced his retirement. She was unopposed for the Democratic nomination. In the general election held on February 6, 1968, she defeated Republican nominee Allison Kolb of Baton Rouge. Kolb was the only Republican challenging any of the Democratic nominees for state constitutional offices that year, and his candidacy was not taken seriously by voters. He had been auditor (when he was a Democrat) in the administration of former Governor Robert F. Kennon. Mrs. Parker won all sixty-four parishes: 337,234 (73.7 percent) to Kolb's 120,253 (26.3 percent). She polled at least 57 percent of the vote in all parishes except Lafayette and East Baton Rouge parishes.

In her later elections, Parker was a runaway winner over her opponents.

Retirement[edit]

In 1980, Treasurer Parker appeared before the House Retirement Committee, chaired then by Shady R. Wall of West Monroe, to appeal for improved retirement benefits for the state constitutional officers, including herself, the secretary of state, education superintendent, insurance commissioner, elections commissioner, agriculture commissioner, and attorney general. Greater benefits were then being paid to legislators, former governors, and judges than to these constitutional officers. Wall adjourned the committee without acting on Parker's request. Few on the committee seemed sympathetic to Parker's appeal. One committee member in fact, Ron Gomez of Lafayette, tried to reduce the retirement payments of former governors, judges, and legislators back to the level of Parker and the other constitutional officers, but Wall refused to recognize Gomez to offer his amendment.[9]

Parker served until January 1, 1987, when she retired with nearly a year and a half left in her fifth term. Mary Landrieu, her fellow Democratic woman and then a state representative from New Orleans, was elected in 1987 to succeed her as treasurer. Mary Landrieu defeated three fellow Democrats for the post, including two legislative colleagues, former U.S. Representative Buddy Leach, a wealthy Leesville businessman and a later state chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, and Kevin P. Reilly, Sr., a state representative and then the CEO of the Lamar Advertising Company in Baton Rouge.

On her retirement, Mrs. Parker received an honorary doctorate from her alma mater, Northwestern State University. In 1976, she was named Baton Rouge's "Woman of the Year. She was also listed in Who's Who in America. In 1994, she, Virginia Shehee, Virginia Martinez, and Lindy Boggs were among the first nine inductees into the new Louisiana Center for Women and Government Hall of Fame at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux.[10] In 1996, Parker was inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.[11]She won the "Past Presidents Award" from the Alliance for Good Government.[4]

Parker and two other Louisiana Democrats, U.S. District Judge Adrian Duplantier and former State Representative Risley C. Triche of Napoleonville in Assumption Parish, were interviewed for the 2001 book Welfare Racism: Playing the Race Card Against America's Poor. The three testified to their personal knowledge of racism in 1960-1961 in Louisiana against African American public assistance recipients. Parker's expertise on the matter is based on her former tenure as head of the State Welfare Board.[12]

Parker died of complications from a heart attack at her home in Baton Rouge on January 17, 2015. She was 94. A Baptist,[1] Parker is referred to in her obituary as a "lifelong Christian". Her services were held on January 24 at Rabenhorst Funeral Home in Baton Rouge. The obituary does not mention a burial site but lists pallbearers and honorary pallbearers.[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Matt McKinney (January 17, 2015). "Mary Evelyn Parker, longtime Louisiana treasurer, dies at age 94". Baton Rouge Advocate. Retrieved January 18, 2015. 
  2. ^ "Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership". guide2womenleaders.com. Retrieved January 18, 2015. 
  3. ^ "William Bryant Parker". search.ancestry.com. Retrieved January 18, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Mary Evelyn Parker obituary". The Baton Rouge Advocate. Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  5. ^ Minden Herald, Minden, Louisiana, January 6, 1964, p. 8
  6. ^ William J. "Bill" Dodd, Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics Baton Rouge: Claitor's Publishers, 1991, pp. 59-60
  7. ^ "USA Local Elective Office". Retrieved 2007-12-05. 
  8. ^ "Mary Evelyn Parker". Archived from the original on 2006-09-29. Retrieved 2006-09-29. 
  9. ^ Ron Gomez, My Name Is Ron And I'm a Recovering Legislator: Memoirs of a Louisiana State Representative, Lafayette, Louisiana: Zemog Publishing, 2000, pp. 73-76, ISBN=0-9700156-0-7
  10. ^ ""Louisiana Center for Women and Government" – Past Inductees". Nicholls.edu. Retrieved September 6, 2009. 
  11. ^ "Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame". cityofwinnfield.com. Retrieved August 22, 2009. 
  12. ^ Kenneth J. Neubeck, Noel A. Cazenave, Welfare Racism: Playing the Race Card Against America's Poor, 2001. Google Books, p. x. 2001. ISBN 9780415923408. Retrieved April 5, 2010. 
Preceded by
A. P. Tugwell
Louisiana State Treasurer

Mary Evelyn Parker
1968–1987

Succeeded by
Mary Landrieu