Robert Parks had passion for the community, telling stories

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 | 9:33 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Robert Parks worked for a painting company and never wrote a book. But with the memory of the sound of his voice, his stories will stay with his family for years to come.

Mr. Parks would tell tales of his own experiences living in a small Tennessee town during the Depression and of his grandfather's experiences in the Civil War, Mary Stier, his daughter, said. Throughout his childhood, he cultivated a love of storytelling.


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“He could weave a good story,” Stier, said. "People remember him for his stories."

Robert G. Parks Jr. of Columbia died Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013. He was 87.

Mr. Parks' passion for stories began when his father's lumber business failed during the Depression and their family moved in with relatives, Stier said. Even through the challenging times, he was constantly shown love and support by his parents, Robert G. Parks Sr. and Ruth Taylor Parks.

Mr. Parks and his father would take trips through the cemeteries and spend hours in the county records of Cleveland, Tenn., looking for history so they could tell the tales of those that had come before them.

Stier said her father would tell stories in a "To Kill a Mockingbird" fashion. When he was 11, he saw a man shoot a gun at a judge from the second floor of the town courthouse. His father told him to remain quiet. After the man was released on bail, Mr. Parks’ father witnessed the same man shoot and kill a town lawyer. The two then went to the trial of the man, and Mr. Parks continued to tell the story for the rest of his life.

After high school graduation and turning 18, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet, and was further promoted to second lieutenant. After World War II, he attended the University of Tennessee,  and married Mary Lu Bodkin shortly after graduation in 1950. He was called back to service in 1951 to serve as a C-46 pilot in the Air Force during the Korean War.

Upon returning, he started his 35-year career at the Benjamin Moore Paint Company.

“He always reminded people he sold beauty and protection,” Stier said. “The company took care of people and their customers.”

Mr. Parks and Mary Lu decided to retire to Columbia to be close to their children and grandchildren living in the Midwest. They fell in love with the community and became extremely involved, Stier said.

“They made incredible friends here,” she said. “My father just loved this community.”

Mr. Parks was a memberof the ROMEOs (Retired Old Men Eating Out), Kiwanis and was an elder at the First Presbyterian Church.

When Mr. Parks and his wife weren't visiting their children, they traveled together all over the world and were enthusiasts of the performing arts. They were also big supporters of MU women’s athletics and attended many volleyball, basketball and gymnastics events.

Mr. Parks had a passion for life and a sense of humor to follow, and his loyalty, generosity and the incredible relationships he built will be missed by his many family and friends, Stier said.

"He was loved by everyone and he returned that love," she said.

He is survived by his wife Mary Lu of Columbia; daughters Laura Carr and her husband, Neil, of Topeka, Kan., Marty Colwell and her husband, Pat, of Waterloo,Iowa, and Mary Stier and her husband, Jeff, of Des Moines, Iowa; sister Martha McKinstry of Oak Ridge, Tenn.; and grandchildren Meredith Carr Cathey, Alex Carr, Phillip Carr, Amy Colwell Reedy, Ann Colwell, Ryan Stier and Emma Stier.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, at First Presbyterian Church, followed by a reception at the church.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Columbia Kiwanis Foundation, P.O. Box 158, Columbia, MO 65204, or the Salvation Army.

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