March 13, 1949
November 23, 2019
Robert William “Rob” Parker laid down his drawing pencil on Saturday, November 23 at the end of a brief but fierce battle with T-Cell Lymphoma.
If anything, Rob was loyal to the people and things he loved. Even as a first-generation American, he was exceedingly connected with his Italian immigrant heritage, and could not let that go unmentioned to friends and strangers alike. His life began in El Paso, Texas on March 13, 1949, born to William A. “Bill” Parker and Lina M. [Lombardi] Parker. As the oldest child of an army serviceman, Rob’s formative years found him in a colorful variety of places, including El Paso, Germany, Italy, and Houston, until finally starting high school in Jasper, Texas in 1963.
As he may have mentioned to you once or twice, Rob was a first-generation Italian-American. Raised in a Roman Catholic family, he was baptized on April 10, 1949 in El Paso, Texas by the Most Reverend Roland A. Vander Haar, who wasn’t Italian, but his baptismal witnesses, Lillian and Lawrence Pacini almost certainly were.
Growing up in the 50s and 60s, Rob played witness to the birth of rock-and-roll, and music would play a consistent role throughout his whole life. His father operated a successful radio and TV repair business in both Houston and Jasper, which gave Rob access to the latest electronics of the time for audio-visual entertainment. He and his brothers, Louis and Michael, all learned to play instruments and were in a handful of garage bands in their high school years.
But, it wasn’t music which would define Robert’s legacy in this world. After graduating from Jasper High School in 1967, he attended Sam Houston State University in Huntsville with the dream of becoming a commercial artist; a big shot in the world of advertising and corporate branding.
During his undergraduate studies at Sam Houston, in accordance with his Fine Arts degree program, he took a drawing class in which he met a delightful Education Major (Fine Art Minor) from the small rural town of Brenham, two years his senior. Ruth [Ahrens] and Rob were complements in the best ways. They fell in love and were married on September 6, 1969, and recently celebrated 50 years of marriage, shortly before Rob’s illness.
Nearing graduation, with the world of the early 1970’s in seeming turmoil, and the prospects of commercial art jobs running thin, Ruth convinced Rob to pivot to pursue a Master’s Degree and teach art. The decision would be transformative, not only for him, but eventually for literally thousands of young people for the next 40 years.
Rob’s journey into public art education brought him and Ruth back to her hometown, where both set out teaching. This was the modest beginning to a 40-year career which would see Rob eventually teaching the children and even a few grandchildren of his first students. While difficult to calculate precisely, “Mr. Parker” likely taught nearly 6000 students during his tenure with Brenham ISD, many of whom later followed in his footsteps into art education or other professional visual arts careers.
The Brenham community welcomed this “outsider”, and Rob paid back the little town in spades. He put his God-given talents to use with numerous local institutions such as the Brenham Maifest and the Washington County Fair, among others. For many years, he designed and produced the sets for the Maifest Coronations. His commercial art aspirations were occasionally satisfied by designing logos and branding for local Brenham businesses. Rob was a member of the Brenham Evening Lions club for more than 30 years, including times serving as President, Board Member, Program Director, and other leadership roles. In 2010-11, he was named a Lions Melvin Jones Fellow. His involvement with the Lions even extended back to his hometown of Jasper, where he faithfully assisted his father, Bill-- also a Lion-- with Jasper’s Annual Lions Rodeo. Most every year, Rob’s job was to fry the corn-dogs, and he took the task very seriously. As he taught his sons, as well as his students: “anything worth doing is worth doing well.”
He was a very active member of Christ Lutheran Church in Brenham for more than 40 years. Like everything in Rob’s life, his involvement was rarely half-way. Over the years he served as a lay-reader, sang in the choir, served communion, and most recently coordinated the Saturday morning men’s breakfasts. His commitment to faith and family was unmistakable. Promoting art education was an important part of Rob’s life. He was a lifelong member of the National Art Educators Association (NAEA), Texas Art Educators Association (TAEA), and Brazos Valley Art Educators Association (BVAEA). In 2004, Rob was recognized by TAEA as a Distinguished Fellow, and was the first and only lifetime member of BVAEA. He was pivotal in the creation of VASE-- Visual Arts Scholastic Event-- which put visual arts in the domain of other UIL competitive events, and allowed interested students to progress through increasing levels of artful critique and provided scholarship opportunities for the most talented.
After 40 years of dedicated service to Brenham ISD, Rob retired in 2012. But, he did not stop teaching. Rob promptly began a weekly art class for the pre-schoolers at Christ Lutheran Christian Day School, where he performed all kinds of antics in the furtherance of art education.
He was passionate about introducing young people to the joys of visual arts and tapping the creative potential of everyone, regardless of age. Rob Parker was a fun guy. He always looked on the brighter side of life, and his smile and laugh were infectious. Rob never met a stranger, and always looked for ways to connect with
people. Frequently, he would return from a restaurant somehow knowing his server’s life story, where he or she went to school, “who they were from home”, and other esoteric details most other people eschew. It was his attention to detail-- even seemingly trivial detail-- that was one of the things which made him special. And, you can be assured his new acquaintance was left knowing Rob was a first-generation Italian-American.
Rob leaves behind his loving wife of 50 years, Ruth [Ahrens] Parker, sons Matthew and his wife Lauren of Brenham, Jonathan and his wife Heidi of Austin, and grandchildren Emma, Beckett, Finley, Reese, Maren, Eleanor, and Quinn. Other survivors include Rob’s brother, Louis Parker and his wife, Patti, of League City, and sister-in-law, Melody Parker of Longview, brother-in-law Gerald Ahrens and his wife, Sally, of Conroe, as well as many loving nieces, nephews, cousins and thousands of former students.
Rob is now reunited with his Savior, Jesus, his parents, Bill and Lina Parker, brother, Michael Parker, nephew, Joel Parker, and parents-in-law, Erwin and Guernell Ahrens, taking his place with the great cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews chapter 12.
Visitation with friends and family will be held Friday, November 29 from 5:00pm to 7:00pm at Brenham Memorial Chapel.
A Celebration of Life will be held at 11:00am, Saturday, November 30, at Christ Lutheran Church with Pastor Mark Groves officiating. A lunch will follow at the church. Interment will occur privately at a later date.
Memorials can be made to any of the following:
-- Christ Lutheran Church, 1104 Carlee Dr, Brenham, TX 77833
-- Texas Art Education Foundation, TAEA Headquarters, 14070 Proton Rd, Suite 100, Dallas, TX 75244
-- Leukemia & Lymphoma Society: https://donate.lls.org/lls/donate or 888-557-7177.