WESTERLY - When Anita Horrigan looks back on her experiences with neighbors David and John Parker, she remembers deep and thoughtful conversations about so many topics, from her children’s education to planting a successful vegetable garden. Reflecting on the $2.5 million that the two former alumni to the University of Rhode Island’s College of Engineering, she can only describe such generosity as typical of their character.
“What I learned from both of them was the art of conversation,” said Horrigan. “That is the one thing that those gentlemen were known for. You’d sit down in their house, take a chair, and learn some daily conversation. They mentored me in my vegetable garden, in addition to hundreds of other things, and they were family to us.”
John and David, who passed away in 2011 and 2001 respectively, both served the university in differing roles. John worked as a professor of mechanical engineering at URI for 25 years, retiring in 1977, while David earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry in 1934, after which he served as a chemist for the Naval Underwater Systems Center in New London, retiring in 1972.
“John was a valued member of the College faculty in his day, and He was well respected and passionately committed to teaching students about engineering,” said Raymond Wright, Dean of URI’s College of Engineering. “The Parker brothers’ gifts will have a tremendous impact on the College and its students, providing significant support to a number of college priorities, including the College of Engineering Future Fund, the mechanical engineering department and scholarships.”
“The philanthropic support from John and his brother David will have a tangible effect on the College, its faculty and students,” he added.
As a neighbor, Horrigan witnessed the desire to learn and teach both John and David embodied, always seeking to listen through conversation and discover the next piece of previously unknown information.
“They were very old fashioned and private, quiet and scholarly guys, but very giving to everyone,” said Horrigan. “David was an historian, loved history, and had books about the Middle Ages right up to the present day. They had a love of reading and going to the library was a part of their every week routine.”
“They were also competitive sailors,” she added. “Every single day they took their skiff over to Sandy Point and, having several golden retrievers over their time, let their dogs walk.”
Horrigan is most grateful, however, for their unselfishness and the dedication the Parker brothers gave to others, most indelibly to her sons and daughter as they grew up.
“They were committed to math and the sciences, mentoring our children and always helping them with projects in school,” said Horrigan. “One of one of our daughters went into marine biology, another boy went into marine engineering and another is an engineer, so they had a a direct impact on the education of our kids.”
After retirement, John and David, the sons of a Westerly granite quarry worker who wanted them to receive an education above all else, continued to remain involved in the university community. John served treasurer of the URI Alumni Association at one time, and both spent days building skiffs which they donated to URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography.
“John told many stories about his time at URI, and was always eager to share his insights, whether they were about the College, the department of mechanical engineering or sailing,” said Robert Clough, associate dean for development at the College of Engineering and a friend. “One of his favorite recollections was from the 1950s when the construction of Wales Hall was being planned.”
“Apparently the provost at the time came to the mechanical engineering department and presented John and his colleagues with $300,000 and told them to get the building built,” he added. “John enjoyed working on that project and his affinity for URI was evident. He was a very proud alum.”
The $2.5 million will be used to fund two endowments. The first is the already established Dr. Malcolm L. and Nicole Spaulding Scholarship in Ocean Engineering. The second has been set up in the John and David’s honor to provide the university library with resources to fund the College of Engineering’s curricula.
Looking back on the two men who were greatly admired by many in the URI community, Horrigan understands completely the manner in which they conducted their lives, and is forever appreciative of the memories that they have given her and her family.
“They believed in community giving, lived very frugally and prepared for the time when they were gone,” said Horrigan. “Their life goal was to give this money, to leave this legacy because they felt so strongly about the math and the sciences, and education.”
“I think that is lost today, and of the younger crowds don’t want to sit and listen,” she added. “They were dear friends and we will miss them.”