The circle is almost complete for John Parker, who grew up in Athens and maintains a weekend residency in the house on Hampton Court where he grew up. Talk about a local boy making good.
You could keep adding exclamation points to that line. The story feels good but gets better the more you massage it. Each twist from the time he graduated at Georgia to a recent weekend when he took in a basketball game and a gymnastics meet, walked to Five Points for a beer with his wife Kay — his son, John Reid Parker III, eagerly joining them. This is a man who has risen high in the legal department at Coca-Cola and has traveled the world for the popular soft drink company. He has lived in London and Oslo, among other distant addresses. Even now, he may jet off to Paris or Rome. London or Brussels. Just for two or three days, which is the way it is for an executive for a global company like Coke.
John has seen many of the places most of us know about from travel magazines and television. With a bent for history, he likes all that and treasures the ancillary benefits that come from his work. With a small-town upbringing and an invigorating curiosity, he finds his pinch-me-is-it-real environment something he does not take for granted. The Tower of London, Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, the Spanish Steps, the Coliseum and countless other landmarks throughout the world have been focused in his camera — and he loves it. When it comes to having those kinds of travel and historical options, John’s cup runneth over. But he also has an appreciation for the laid-back pace of Athens, which has an eclectic atmosphere that is brought about by energy from a student body that is triple the size when he matriculated here in 1969-73.
His attachment to Athens is understandably enduring. He wants to lounge on the same porch where his late father, Reid Parker, longtime member of the forestry faculty, hosted his closest friends Dick Copas and Bill Powell for late-afternoon Budweisers in a can. When he runs errands or just rambles somewhere, he cranks up his father’s ’94 Chevy and moves about. He’d rather drive that old pickup than a new Lexus.
That old truck reminds him of his days of yore. When he sold programs at home football games, crying if the Bulldogs lost. When he slid down the hillsides of the banks on each end of the stadium in the days when Sanford Stadium was about half its current size. He could walk to all the sports venues. He could even walk to the Varsity for a chili dog. Today, the Varsity remains one of his treasured haunts.
After graduating from Georgia in ’73 with a degree in history, he began a longtime dream of being a coach. He absorbed the nuances of the games — football and basketball — quickly. He experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
An opportunity with IBM came about for Kay in North Carolina in 1981. A graduate of Georgia Tech (she is now an honorary Bulldog), Kay’s career options made sense for them to move. John gave up coaching and enrolled in law school at Chapel Hill. Those were the days. Michael Jordan was leading the Tar Heels to the NCAA championship, and John got to know basketball coach Dean Smith and was invited to watch the team practice.
Then his connection with Coca-Cola came about. The ride has been heady, but John, influenced by the balance in the lives of his parents, Cynthia and Reid, longtime campus loyalists, has never lost perspective. With his success, there has been an opportunity to give back to the institution which “made” him. He has endowed the athletic director’s position at the University of Georgia in memory of his parents.
If you receive a letter from Greg McGarity — and his successors in perpetuity — it will carry the notation that the head Bulldog is the J. Reid Parker Director of Athletics.
A nice touch from a loving son and his family in memory of their parents — all underscoring the past and present with love of alma mater.
Loran Smith is co-host of “The Tailgate Show” and sideline announcer for Georgia football. He is also a freelance writer and columnist.