Accolades, scholarships and a new non-profit foundation have cemented the legacy of Alison Parker, according to her parents, Barbara and Andy Parker.
On Aug. 26, WDBJ 7 journalist Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward were shot and killed on live television while doing a remote segment at Bridgewater Plaza in Moneta. Since then, Barbara and Andy Parker have become tireless advocates for common-sense gun legislation.
They also have become conservators of their daughter’s legacy. In the eight months since her passing, Alison Parker’s works continue to gain recognition.
Recently, the Radio Television Digital News Association awarded Alison Parker a prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award for "Childhood Lost," an hour-long documentary segment she created for WDBJ 7. The segment, which focused on child abuse, aired just one week before Alison’s death, Barbara Parker said.
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Andy Parker said that he’s still unable to watch any video footage of Alison — it’s too painful — but he and Barbara Parker watched the segment when it originally aired.
"I remember when she was working on it, she said, ‘Dad, this is really going to be good,’" Andy Parker said. "Before it was broadcast, I posted on Facebook, ‘Be on the lookout, it’s Emmy-winning.’ She said, ‘Dad, you can’t say that!’ The irony of it is, it wasn’t just an Emmy award. The Murrow award is the Oscar for broadcast journalism."
Of course, Alison Parker also has an Emmy to her name. In October, she received the Ted Yates Emmy award from The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
It was important to Andy Parker, he said, that the Murrow award was given because of the caliber of work that Alison produced, and not merely as a sympathy vote.
"This was for her work," he said. "And it was powerful stuff."
Since August, gun legislation advocacy has kept the Parkers busy, as they have participated in a whirlwind tour of interviews, marches, rallies and even advocating during the most recent Virginia General Assembly session. Just recently, Barbara Parker said, she has been interviewed for Newsweek, People Magazine, Rolling Stone and Cosmopolitan.
On Saturday, the Parkers participated in the fourth annual March Against Gun Violence, where more than 1,200 people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge in a display of solidarity. Last year, Barbara Parker said, 600 people marched; the number of marchers more than doubled in a year.
The theme of the march was "One Tough Mother," she said, taking place the day before Mother’s Day to highlight mothers who have lost children to gun violence.
Participants included parents of gun violence victims, she said – such as Lucia McBath, whose son was the subject of the HBO documentary "3 ½ Minutes, 10 Bullets" after being shot to death for playing his music too loud – but also celebrities, such as actresses Julianne Moore and Melissa Joan Hart.
"Both of them said that they have young children, and they just felt so strongly that they had to speak out," Barbara Parker said. "In the past, a lot of celebrities have gotten death threats and other threats (for advocating gun legislation), so they have kind of backed off. But both of these women really felt like this was something they could not, in good conscience, ignore."
Attending these events is motivating, Barbara Parker said, but it’s also emotionally draining.
"There was a little boy, Christopher," she said. "He was five years old when his brother was shot and killed. He’s nine now. He spoke in front of 1,200 people about how his best friend had been taken away from him. It was so eloquent and so great. … But it’s draining."
Recently, Andy Parker has committed to writing a non-fiction book about Alison’s life and the challenge of carrying on following her death. While a book deal has not yet been formally inked, he has been in extensive talks with a literary agent.
Writing is hard work, he said, but he has help from WDBJ 7 anchor Chris Hurst, who was in a relationship with Alison at the time of her death and has since become a de facto member of the Parker family.
"(Author) Mary Karr said, if you’re going to write a memoir … you start it right there at the most painful part of it," Andy Parker said. "It took me about four days of writing to finish the … I call it ‘The Day.’ There was one point I had to just back off. It tore me up. Reliving that, and reliving what you see, what your mind’s eye sees … it’s devastating."
Alison Parker’s death was unique in that it was captured on live television. Andy and Barbara Parker have never seen that video, nor do they ever intend to.
"But we have the choice to not see that video," Andy Parker said. "Your imagination … you have no control over that. You envision things based on what you’ve heard."
But writing the book – painful as it is – is therapeutic, he said.
"I think it is cathartic," he said. "It’s very hard work, but I think it is cathartic. Hopefully, once it’s finally finished, people will read it and say, ‘Here are people that had the worst thing imaginable happen to them, but they did something about it and they came through it.’ Hopefully it will inspire people who have had similar tragedies in their lives."
While sensible gun control legislation will be a component of the book, Andy Parker said, it will not be the whole. The focus of the book, he said, is Alison.
Going into the upcoming Presidential election, however, Barbara Parker wants to play a part in keeping the topic of gun legislation active.
"Once the candidates are set and the election race begins, we want to keep that in the forefront and not have it disappear from the conversation," she said.
The Parkers are in favor of closing gun show loopholes and keeping guns out of the hands of convicted domestic abusers and violent criminals. The frustration, they said, is that their message is frequently misinterpreted.
"Nobody’s coming to take your guns," Andy Parker said, with the exasperation of someone who has frequently been wrongfully accused of coming to take everyone’s guns.
"You just shake your head," Barbara Parker said. "People hear what they want to hear. … It’s fear mongering. And if that’s what they want to hear, you can’t change their minds."
The Parkers’ immediate focus is For Alison, a non-profit foundation created to support the visual and performing arts that Alison loved dearly.
"We don’t want her to just be remembered for her death," Barbara Parker said. "We want her to be remembered for her life, her talent as a dancer, how much she loved the arts. She grew up coming to Piedmont Arts after school."
Barbara Parker recently retired from Piedmont Arts, where she had served as Director of Programs.
While For Alison has been taking donations online, she said, the National Association of Broadcasters took donations for Alison and Adam Ward and donated the funds between their families. Adam Ward’s family put the money toward a scholarship in Adam’s name at the high school he attended, while the Parker’s used their share – $22,000 – as seed money for the foundation.
"This summer, probably within the next month, we’ll start to give out grants in the arts both in this area and in Roanoke and southern Virginia," she said. "The primary goal is to help kids who do not have the opportunities that Alison did for arts experiences" – for example, by taking them to see Shakespeare or providing scholarships for summer camps.
"Alison believed, and I believe, that the arts can make such a difference in the lives of kids," Barbara Parker said. "They may take a different direction if they are exposed to the arts. It can change their lives."
In addition to the seed money, the foundation also has received about $4,000 in donations, in addition to the countless donations that went to scholarships created in Alison’s memory at her alma maters, Patrick Henry Community College and James Madison University.
"Her death was high-profile," Barbara Parker said. "I think it shocked people, and they wanted to do something to remember her. I think that’s part of it. But I think she also had an impact on a lot of people we didn’t even know about. … She mentored other people that were even potential competitors in whatever she was doing."
"That’s the thing that gets me as emotional as anything," Andy Parker said. "Hearing stories from people who knew her. They may not have known her very well, but they had a story about her that we had never heard. She did so many acts of kindness and went out of her way to help people. You hear that stuff, and it just gets you emotional."
"Even if people didn’t know her," he continued, "they felt like they knew her, and they wanted to do something to honor her memory."
For more information on For Alison or to make a donation, visit foralison.org.