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Voices From the Harbor
After Sept. 11
Putting Together the Pieces

 

   

At 84, Parker enjoys his work at North Texas as much as he enjoyed his student days in the 30s. Pictured with his horse, Reno, he also retains his zest for life and work on his ranch.

A SQUARELY BUILT MAN WITH A creased brow whose deep, steady voice suggests all thoughts are weighed carefully, Walt Parker (’40) wears his authority with quiet humility.

Not fully comfortable with the notion that he’s a leader who inspires confidence, Parker says he just tries to accomplish as much as possible.

“I don’t have a lot of natural talent, but I do have a strong desire to use what I’ve got,” he says.

And for most of his 84 years, the UNT System’s vice chancellor for governmental affairs has dedicated his desire and talent to public service.

He first joined North Texas’ administration in 1979 after serving five consecutive terms in the Texas Legislature representing Denton County.

As a state representative, Parker championed all of public higher education, with special concern that Denton universities receive the highest possible level of funding and status.

And since 1979 he has worked tirelessly to ensure the state’s continued support and recognition of North Texas. But Parker’s role at the university — and in Denton — didn’t begin with his public service.

 

Parker played on the Eagle team that won the Lone Star Conference Championship in 1939. Here he makes a catch against Austin College earlier that season..

 

Joining the team

In 1935, at the age of 18, Parker finished high school and took a 12-hour-a-day, six-day-a-week job at Montgomery Ward in Fort Worth to help his family make ends meet. A year later, when his father worked at the railroad, he encouraged Parker to attend college.

With a $30-a-month stipend from home that covered the cost of his room and board, Parker left his native Fort Worth for Denton.

Once in college, he no longer had to work all day, every day. The responsibilities of school and the few odd jobs he held (delivering laundry and selling flowers) to help pay his way weren’t enough to fill his time.

“I saw these guys out on a field running fast, working hard and I figured I’d go see about joining them,” he says.

When he asked to join the football team, admitting he had no prior experience, then-North Texas football coach Jack Sisco laughed but agreed to let Parker try out. Sisco’s teams won seven conference championships and tied for three others from 1929 to 1941.

Parker’s determination and deep-rooted work ethic earned him a running back position, and he went on to letter twice in football and play on the 1939 Lone Star Conference championship team.

He also is one of only two North Texas players to play in a Cotton Bowl game. During World War II, Parker served as a fitness officer in the Army Air Corps, ensuring that the pilots were physically fit to fly. In 1944, the Randolph Field Ramblers, the air corps team, faced the University of Texas in the Cotton Bowl. Parker and another North Texas player, Leiland W. Killian, were on the team. The game ended in a 7-7 tie.

 


Parker, right, served five consecutive terms in the Texas Legislature.

Official business

After returning home from active duty in the Pacific, Parker resumed his athletic and business careers.

Even though he’d earned his degree in business, his North Texas football career sparked a passion that led him to pursue work as a coach. Eventually, his string of jobs at schools in Texas led him back to Denton to head Denton High School’s athletic program.

After settling down in Denton again, Parker started a number of businesses. For more than 20 years, he operated a farm and ranch while also working as a general contractor with his W-P Building Co., which he still owns. He also owned and operated the Sports and Toy Center in Denton and Arlington for more than 10 years.

And just for fun, he worked as a referee for the American Football League and continued as an official once that league merged with the National Football League in 1965. As an NFL referee, Parker officiated more than 300 games, including two Super Bowls, several conference championship games and three Pro Bowls.

As a referee for the NFL, Parker saw a lot of action up close. He kept an eye on Roger Staubach in this 1973 game.

Today, he works for the NFL as an official observer, monitoring referees’ rule calls — and proving that at no point in his life has he ever been satisfied to sit on the sidelines.

“I’ve learned a lot of important things in life, but football taught me that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but when you’re down, you’ve got to be able to recover and get started again,” he says. “That fundamental lesson has taken me a long way in everything I’ve done.”

 

Legislative success

That lesson was particularly poignant during his time in the Legislature.

“It takes a great deal of patience to accomplish anything in government, but you can do a lot if you stick with it,” he says.

Over the years Parker has shown great tenacity in ensuring the university’s success. He has played a key role in securing funding for the university’s initiatives and improving services for students. In addition, he worked to establish the Texas Higher Education Assistance Fund to provide money for construction and renovations to universities that don’t receive assistance from the Permanent University Fund and to provide an opportunity for non-flagship universities to receive research funding.

“I’ve always just wanted to help people, and if that means working in the Legislature, in the community or in the schools, I’ll do it,” he says. “I hope there is some lasting impact to what I do, but I know that, at the very least, I’m having fun getting it done.”

 

 
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