2015 In Memoriam – Bert Parke

1515 ParkeBert Parke enjoyed music.  While he may have been better known for listening to the organ at the baseball park (first Ray Winder Field, then Dickey-Stephens Ballpark), he also enjoyed the organ at Christ Episcopal Church.  Of course his affection for the church organ cannot be separated from the fact that his beloved Ann Blair was often in the choir singing with the organ.

To many in Arkansas (and — let’s be honest, beyond Arkansas), Bert was known for his decades-long association with the Arkansas Travelers. He was part of the small group of businessmen who kept baseball in Little Rock in the 1960s by turning the Travelers into the nation’s only community-owned professional baseball team. In the 1970s, he served as Treasurer of the Travelers before being elected as President in 1980. For the next 30 years, he served in that capacity until becoming President Emeritus in 2010. Just weeks before he died, Bert was elected to the Texas League Hall of Fame.

As a businessman, he led Democrat Printing & Lithograph through many innovations and changes. Through it all, he made sure it continued to serve its customers. He passed this on to his sons Frank and John. To his children and grandchildren, he also passed on to his family the importance of philanthropy and serving the community.  He and Ann Blair co-chaired the first Opus Ball for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. At the time, there were very few black tie balls in Little Rock, so their leadership was crucial to the success of the event.

Bert also was involved in the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History; he was named an Honorary Lifetime Commissioner of that museum. A life-long member of Christ Episcopal Church, he held many leadership positions in the church and the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas.

These words do poor service to the man who was Bert Parke. He had a perpetual twinkle in his eye. His mouth was always curled ready to burst into one of his generous smiles. He met no strangers.  For a while in 2015, he and I both were using walkers as we trudged down the side aisle at Christ Church. Well, I trudged. Bert reveled in the affection as he worked the crowd in a way that would be the envy of most politicians who try to work a rope line.  Each week, he would check on my progress as I recovered from a broken ankle.

For a better job at capturing the spirit of Bert Parke, here is the Rev. Scott Walters’ outstanding homily which was delivered at his service.