By Ann Cipperly
When Nancy Parker was a little girl, she believed anything she could dream she could accomplish. In grammar school in Opelika, Nancy knew she wanted to be a television news anchor. It was a dream that grew into a passion for telling people’s stories, inspiring others and making a difference. The dream led to New Orleans where she became a celebrated news anchor, interviewing the President of the United States, meeting the Pope on St. Peter’s Square and receiving numerous Emmys, honors and awards for her documentaries and dedication to excellence.
The news of Nancy’s death was devastating for those who knew her and her family.
Nancy’s parents, Patsy and Bill Parker of Opelika, were educators who were committed to community service. They always encouraged her to follow her dreams and Nancy felt that they were great role models, with their motto “Be the best at whatever you do, no matter what that is, always keep your dignity and self-respect and be able to hold your head up no matter where you are.” She later said this was drilled into her and her brother, Billy, every day.
Before Nancy became a news anchor, her talent as a young news reporter was evident. I remember when she was just starting her career at a Columbus station, reporters were invited to Callaway Gardens to interview Prince Albert ll of Monaco, who was touring the site for the Olympics.
When I arrived with other journalists, Nancy was already there with a cameraman. As soon as the prince arrived, Nancy was firing questions one behind the other, while the rest of us stood around stunned but impressed with the young journalist. After a while, the prince looked around and said to let someone else ask a question. We admitted she had already asked our questions. Then, to our surprise, Nancy fired more questions to the prince.
Since many of us had a love for Nancy and her family, we always kept up with her rapidly growing career at Fox 8 News in New Orleans.
Just a couple of years ago when we were heading to New Orleans from Houston, I e-mailed Nancy that we would be there in a few hours. I didn’t expect to see her on such short notice, but she texted after her television show to see where we were. She said she would see me shortly.
I remember standing at the door of a bed and breakfast inn looking for her. Soon, a car slowed down, and I saw her smiling face looking up. She parked immediately and dashed up the steps with hugs.
Nancy was so loved in New Orleans. Once the innkeeper heard it was Nancy Parker in the foyer, she rushed out, saying she loved her show and never missed her newscasts.
After a wonderful visit and catching up on family news, Nancy went home to take care of her family. We took her suggestion on where to have dinner, and we were surprised as we went to pay that she had already arranged to cover it. That was Nancy, as she was always thinking of others.
Anyone who knew Nancy was blessed and could feel the glow of her caring and kindness.
When I interviewed her one time, she said, “You always want to be a light and not just a person. You have to do something to help other people and give back.”
While Nancy was unique and gifted, her life was enhanced with what she learned from her parents and other family members growing up in Opelika.
Nancy shared once that when she was growing up, she was not allowed to sit around watching television, as she was required to read. “My room could be a mess,” she said, “but if I was reading, my parents didn’t say anything.”
When she finished reading a Nancy Drew book, her grandmother would take her to Jackie’s Cards and Gifts in downtown Opelika for another one. “I remember when Granny would buy that book and how it smelled. I could have read that book all night.”
Nancy was active in organizations at Opelika High School, and she was the first Black Miss OHS. Her mother entered Nancy in a Teen magazine modeling contest, and Nancy was one of six national finalists in the magazine’s Miss Teenage America Contest.
When she was a senior in high school, Nancy began the first steps of her dream by applying for a job in the news department at WJHO Radio Station. She knew she wanted to be a newscaster, and her parents told her to go for it. Nancy was thankful Jack Smollon believed in her.
After high school, she studied journalism at the University of Alabama where she graduated with honors in 1988. While at Alabama, she volunteered at WUAL Radio Station and wrote articles for The Crimson White newspaper. She also worked one summer as an intern for the Birmingham News.
She received job offers from newspapers, but in her heart, she wanted to be a news anchor.
Nancy worked as an intern at WTVM in Columbus where she appeared on the air for several stories.
Since there were no openings at the station, Nancy accepted a position working for Congressman Bill Nichols in Washington, D.C., writing press releases and letters. A year later when she received a call from the Columbus station about an opening at the East Alabama Bureau, she returned home.
Nancy began moving up the ladder of success quickly, as she accepted a news position at WSFA in Montgomery, reporting the weekend news and then later anchoring the morning news. While working on a story, Nancy met her future husband, Glynn Boyd, who was also a news reporter.
They ended up in Baton Rouge, where Nancy anchored the five o’clock news. “ I have had a charmed life, being blessed and in the right place at the right time,” Nancy said. A few years later, in 1996, both Nancy and her husband were in New Orleans. A couple of years later, Nancy became the main anchor for the prime-time news on the Fox 8 station.
Over the years, she anchored every prime-time newscast at Fox 8, including the morning edition.
After Katrina, the White House invited five journalists from the Gulf coast for one on one interviews with President Bush. Nancy was one of those invited. While she was waiting to interview the president in the Roosevelt room, she called her mother from the china room. “Mom, guess where I am?”
Other notables she covered include Pope John Paul II when the founder of Xavier University in New Orleans was canonized. “Just as the Pope announced her name,” Nancy said, “a brilliant rainbow appeared over St. Peter’s Square. I never know what I will be covering next. It is always an adventure.”
Nancy was drawn to stories that made a difference. One Emmy nomination was for a story about an honor student who was homeless. Nancy saw a sign that said, “Homeless kids have to go to school too.”
“I started wondering if there were homeless kids going to school. I couldn’t sleep thinking about it.” One night between newscasts, she found the girl at the Salvation Army shelter with her mom. The girl was at the top of her class and drum major in the school band, but ashamed.
After Nancy presented her story, the girl’s life changed. Her family received an apartment and donations. The girl now wants to mentor other children left behind at the shelter.
“I am always looking to make a difference,” Nancy said. “If I can see a change in something, it keeps me motivated.”
When her children, Parker and twins Piper and Pierce, were small, she would tell them stories. She completed another dream when she wrote a children’s book, “The Adventures of Yat and Dat: What’s Cookin’?” The book is about two birds visiting famous restaurants to grab scraps of food to create their own masterpieces. Not long afterwards, she released a second children’s book, “The Adventures of Yat and Dat: Superdome!”
“I remember decades ago,” she said, “when I really wanted something, I could visualize and pray for it. When I can see it, I can do it. Everything I wanted has come to pass. I could close my eyes and picture myself signing these books before I wrote it. You have to really believe it.”
Nancy received many honors, including five Emmy Awards, five Edward R. Murrow awards and several Associated Press and press club awards. In 2015, she was presented the college-wide Bert Bank Distinguished Service Award at the University of Alabama. She was named to the Board of Visitors for the School of Communications and Information Sciences.
“My parents are part of what keeps me going,” Nancy would always say. “They are retired, and they never stop. They have always tried to make a difference in somebody’s life. You have to do something to help other people and give back.”
Nancy Parker gave back to countless people and touched hearts with her light. People who knew her felt she was family. She was the kind of person who had an impact on everyone she met. Nancy was an amazing person who was dedicated to making a difference, and she achieved that goal every day of her life.