Sandy was a trailblazing leader who had a long and rich history in so many segments of the Rochester community. It will be difficult to do her justice in every one of those areas, but I am going to try.
I knew Sandy for over 30 years and what always struck me about her was her leadership, her forthright style of communication, her willingness to jump in and help the team and how she always put our community, especially our children, first.
Sandy led the prestigious Industrial Management Council for five years and did an outstanding job representing its membership, which reflected the strength of the economic fabric of this community. In 2003 when it became apparent that the former Rochester Chamber of Commerce and the IMC needed to consider aligning themselves to create a stronger organization going forward, Sandy was a co-leader with CEO Tom Mooney. Upon Tom’s retirement, that organization was transformed into the Rochester Business Alliance with Sandy Parker as its first CEO.
Sandy led the RBA for a decade and is known for pioneering such efforts as the Community Coalition, which brought together elected officials and business leaders from around our region to focus on advocating for and prioritizing the needs of Greater Rochester. During her time at the RBA, Sandy also focused on healthcare for our community. In partnership with Wegmans Food Markets Inc. and many other leaders around Rochester, she led efforts like the High Blood Pressure Coalition, the ‘Eat Well, Live Well’ program, among others. Community health was always a priority for Sandy and she dedicated huge amounts of her time to lead and support these efforts.
During Sandy’s tenure, she built the Rochester Business Alliance into the premier business organization in our nine-county region. She would consistently convene elected officials and other leaders to partner with the RBA’s Board of Directors on issues of great importance to the region, ranging from economic development to public safety, to education and many others.
Education was an especially powerful motivator for Sandy, and she consistently advocated for changes in the Rochester City School District. With graduation rates well under 50%, Sandy supported a variety of studies to point out the challenges that our children had, and the support and changes that they would need to be successful. Realizing that any changes of this nature would have strong political backlash, Sandy never wavered in the face of that resistance. She always stood like a rock supporting those children and dismissing the excuses of special interests.
After Sandy transitioned out of her leadership at the RBA, she continued to focus on the needs of children. Both she and her husband, Dutch Summers, quietly and without fanfare supported hundreds, if not thousands, of young people in this region over many years with tuition, other forms of financial support and most importantly, encouragement and mentorship.
Since Sandy’s passing, I have described her as a gardener who sowed many seeds in all four corners of our community and our region by helping those children. Those seeds have begun to sprout as so many of those who Sandy and Dutch helped have finished high school and college and are now engaged in successful careers. Those men and women may never have seen the successes they are experiencing today if not for Sandy and Dutch. That is the true essence of what this woman stood for throughout her life.
There are very few charities and not-for-profits that Sandy has not touched through her life. Her generosity knew no bounds and she could never say no to a child or family in need. Her spirit of community service and public service, as well as a deep empathy for people, guided her throughout her career and into the years of “retirement,” during which she managed to accelerate her philanthropic pursuits.
One aspect of Sandy’s character which really needs to be reinforced is that in all the good she did for people and for the community, she never sought attention. She flexed her muscle in one of the most positive, philanthropic and selfless ways that I have seen throughout my career here in Rochester. While I knew Sandy well, I would often learn of her investments in children and other charitable causes through third parties or by accident — never from either her or Dutch directly. To me, that is a true reflection of their character.
Throughout her career and during “retirement,” Sandy served on several boards, and supported our colleges, universities and hospital systems. She never stopped working on those pursuits until the day she left this earth.
Few people can match the love of animals, especially dogs, that Sandy had. Anyone who knew Sandy was aware of her intense love for golden retrievers. Whether her husband Dutch was a dog lover before, he learned to be one with Sandy. Those dogs were a treasure throughout her life and her support for efforts such as Lollypop Farm was yet another reflection of Sandy’s character.
I know of at least one child who required major and extremely expensive life-saving surgery. In the end that surgery was paid for anonymously by Sandy and Dutch. Not even the child’s family knew of their generosity. While this tribute is meant for Sandy Parker, Sandy and Dutch are inextricably linked as an indomitable team. Their strengths melded with each other. Each one helped the other in so many ways, and together they were an absolute powerhouse for good in our community.
My intent with this article is to begin to offer Sandy Parker the appropriate credit for what she accomplished in both her professional and philanthropic endeavors. When Sandy passed, it came as an absolute shock to her family, friends and colleagues. Due to the sudden nature of her departure, it has become more important to take the time to recognize Sandy Parker for the great things she has done throughout her life and career. She would not do it herself. There is nothing more touching than to give without seeking credit or praise. In a world where every good deed is accompanied by a camera or a tweet, it is so refreshing to reflect on the multitude of contributions and sheer goodness that Sandy Parker planted throughout Rochester without seeking any form of recognition or attention.
To keep Sandy’s memory and legacy alive, the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce has created the “Sandra Parker Award and Scholarship Fund” that will be awarded annually at our “Top 100” celebration in November.
There is a special place in heaven reserved for Sandy for all that she has done. Rochester has had many giants of industry, public service, and philanthropy throughout its history, and we have all heard so many of those names over and over again. It is of my opinion that we can add Sandra Parker to that list of giants, and thank God that she was with us for those 75 great years.
Robert J. Duffy is president and CEO of Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at rduffy@GreaterRochesterChamber.com.