What a fool believes ... he sees, No wise man has the power to reason away.
— The Doobie Brothers
There’s a calm surrounding Anthony Parker as we talk. Always an eloquent interview, he seems even more congenial than I remember on this dazzling summer day. At times, though, his eyes take on a faraway look, as if he sees something in reminiscing that he can’t quite — or perhaps doesn’t want to — put into words.
We’re having lunch at Stonebridge Country Club, a favorite haunt of the golf-crazy Albany Technical College president, and both of us find ourselves distracted at times by the goings-on at the lovely course’s 10th green, on view just outside the dining room window. I’m taken with the natural beauty of the finely manicured facility; Parker, a Stonebridge member, is longing to be out there chasing his personal white whale: breaking 80 on the course.
The lunch is an opportunity for me to talk with Parker for the upcoming second installment of this newspaper’s latest feature: A Table With a View. The feature premiered on Aug. 3 with Editor Jim Hendricks’ fascinating sit-down with Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul. With the bar set high, I knew I had to find as compelling a subject for the follow-up installment.
Parker certainly fit that bill.
Albany Tech’s president for the past 17 years, Parker only recently returned to the job he loves after an extended absence. He’s spent the last few weeks of his life facing a challenge far removed from the halls of academia.
Diagnosed in 2005 with lymphoma, chemotherapy treatment at that time forced the disease into remission. When it returned last year, doctors at Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute in Atlanta started harvesting Parker’s stem cells. After administering treatment to prepare their patient for an amazing new procedure, staff at Emory implanted Parker’s own harvested stem cells in order to rebuild his weakened immune system.
Parker tells the story of his treatment with the fascination of one who is drawn to innovation but with the remembrance of a patient who’s undergone the treatment.
The hardest part of the procedure?
“Sitting in a hospital room for 24 consecutive days,” Parker says without hesitation. “(Atlanta cable TV provider) Comcast didn’t carry the station that runs the old ‘Perry Mason’ episodes every day, so I brought every DVD I owned to the hospital.”
The longer Parker and I talk, the more I understand why I’ve never heard so much as a single disparaging word uttered against him ... and, in Albany, Georgia, that’s saying something. The man is a ruler-straight shooter at a time when leaders both elected and appointed try to control their public image through spin and, often, outright B.S. If he doesn’t know the answer to a question, Parker doesn’t try to bluff. He tells you he doesn’t know. It’s a refreshing practice more people in authority should give a try.
People say that a brush with mortality changes a man, forces him to take stock of his life. The wise try to work on their flaws; the foolish wallow in self-pity.
Ever the optimist, Anthony Parker didn’t try to read doom into his diagnosis: “No doctor talked with me about being terminal, and I wasn’t going to borrow that,” he said. Instead, he did what he was supposed to do, and now he’s back at work on a limited basis and getting better every day. He’s also counting down the days to his first — and doctor-approved — post-procedure golf outing with his son Richard.
It’s not very likely he’ll break 80 on his first time back on the links. God’s not going to use up all of his miracles on one man, no matter how good a guy he is. But I’d bet a couple of paychecks that the grass will be a little greener and the air will be a little sweeter with every shot Parker makes Sept. 3.
There’s plenty to be said for a man who knows what to do with a second chance.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.