Longtime business and community leader Sandra Parker died over the weekend, following a short battle with cancer. She was 75.
During her lengthy career in Rochester, Ms. Parker led the Industrial Management Council, which in 2003 merged with the Rochester Metro Chamber of Commerce to become the Rochester Business Alliance Inc. Instrumental in that merger, Parker served as CEO of the RBA from 2005 until her retirement in 2013.
As president of the IMC, Ms. Parker co-founded Unshackle Upstate, a bipartisan pro-taxpayer coalition that lobbies Albany on behalf of business owners in the Upstate New York region, which officially took off in 2006. She also helped convene the Fair Share Coalition to seek parity in state aid for Rochester, an initiative that grew into the Rochester Community Coalition.
Ms. Parker also led the merger of the RBA with the Rump Group, an ad hoc organization of private-sector business leaders, which was headed by John “Dutch” Summers, the former CEO of Jasco Tools Inc. She and Summers later married.
“Sandy Parker was a warrior and champion for employers in Greater Rochester, helping lead the region through challenging times,” said Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren in a statement. “She was ever vigilant in ensuring that Rochester’s business community was heard by local leaders and that they responded to the needs of our local economy.
“I will remember her from my days working for former Assemblyman David Gantt with whom she had a strong relationship. Her passing is a sad day for our city, but we will remain grateful to her for making our community a great place to live and work,” Warren added. “My sincere condolences go out to her spouse, John “Dutch” Summers, and all of her family and loved ones.”
When it became apparent that the days of Rochester’s “Big Three” employers — Eastman Kodak Co., Bausch & Lomb Inc. and Xerox Corp. — had waned, Ms. Parker became a proponent of diversifying Rochester’s businesses. She also was keen on workforce development initiatives.
Ms. Parker was honored with Monroe Community College’s Salute to Excellence Award in 2017 for her work to motivate students to pursue college degrees. She was a founding member of the STAR Power Women’s Giving Initiative at MCC, which supported single parents attending the school. Ms. Parker also was a former Athena Award winner.
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of my dear friend Sandy Parker. Through her role at the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, as well as the many leadership positions she held, Sandy dedicated her life’s work to advocating for our community and her tireless efforts will be felt for years to come,” Congressman Joe Morelle (D-Irondequoit) said in a statement. “I am proud to have worked with her on so many important projects in our community and to have called her a friend. My deepest condolences to her entire family during this difficult time. Please know you are in our thoughts.”
Ms. Parker was involved in myriad community organizations and philanthropic efforts including the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Rochester Institute of Technology, Lollypop Farm, the Rochester Area Community Foundation and Rochester Regional Health Information Organization, among others.
Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce Inc. President and CEO Robert Duffy — who took the helm of the RBA upon Ms. Parker’s retirement and was instrumental in its rebranding — called Ms. Parker “a trailblazer in Rochester whose vision and contributions have positively impacted our entire region.”
“Sandy was an unsung hero in the Greater Rochester community for decades, contributing her time, resources and expertise to countless philanthropic and economic development initiatives,” Duffy said in a statement. “In partnership with her husband, Dutch Summers, Sandy’s contributions to, and passion for, educational endeavors were unmatched. Without exaggeration, thousands of young minds were shaped and enhanced due to the generosity of Sandy, who saw these kids through from grammar school to their college graduations.
“Sandy Parker had a profound impact on me personally and professionally, often offering invaluable advice and guidance throughout each stage of my career,” Duffy added. “Sandy’s story will be told in the coming days, weeks, months and years by the many, many people whose lives were touched and made better by her.”
For some time, Ms. Parker wrote a column for the RBJ. In her final post in December 2014, she wrote: “I expect to feel sadness when I leave my RBA office on Dec. 31. This work — and the people I have worked with — have become so important in my life. I know that I will continue to find ways to be involved in the community. I am so thankful for the support I have received from the community in trying to make a difference. I have received many questions about what’s next. My response is: You haven’t seen the last of me yet!”
Ms. Parker is survived by a son and her husband. Funeral arrangements have not yet been made public.
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