Pat Parish, who died Tuesday, Sept. 11, at her home in Pine Cove, was a fine and accomplished singer. And when she sang, the joyous look on her face could light a room as it did one holiday night at a Christmas carol party at my home. I will always remember the look on Pat’s face when she sang and the kindness and generosity of spirit that she radiated to all with whom she came in contact.
It was a gift to be in her presence. Pat was one of those people who embodied the qualities of spirit, grace and support for her community that made life better for all of us. She happily and selflessly gave her gifts of humor, wit, heart and intelligence. Her voice had a lilting and musical quality when she spoke that never failed to lift my spirits.
Pat was a selfless individual who existed to serve others, said Bob Parish, her husband. Service was a defining part of who she was. It began with her helping to support her mother and younger brother at 16 when her father died at age 40. After putting herself through the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, working as a bank teller, Pat enlisted in the Peace Corps; but only after her mother assured her that the family could survive without her financial support.
In her book “Thirteen Months of Sunshine,” (Publish America, Baltimore, 2009) about her Peace Corps odyssey in Ethiopia, Pat recounts her mother saying, “Your family loves and respects your knowledge and your eagerness to travel. They know how hard you have worked ... Health and money may fade, but the experiences you acquire will remain an integral part of you for as long as you exist. Go, experience your dreams.”
In 1962, Pat and Bob met in Ethiopia where both were Peace Corps teachers serving in the city of Dessie. “She was always the center of everyone’s attention,” said Bob. “She just radiated heart. I remember seeing her surrounded after class by 300 young students, all wanting to be close to her.
“I had to fight to have her notice me. I asked her to marry me six times,” Bob recounted. “Finally, on the seventh time at 14,000-foot altitude on a hike, she said ‘Maybe.’ That was the closest to ‘yes’ I ever got. We were married at the embassy in Addis Abba the day we got out of the Corps. Our respective in-laws had to wait until they saw us getting off the plane to know if either one of us was black. Pat didn’t want us to tell them one way or the other. ‘Just let it ride,’ she said.”
Pat continued to provide service throughout her life said Bob, first as a teacher in the Long Beach school system for 35 years, for eight weeks in 2005 as a returning Peace Corps volunteer working for FEMA after Hurricane Katrina, travelling on medical missions in four countries and five U.S. states, and in Idyllwild as chairperson for 10 years of the Fourth of July Parade.
President George Bush awarded Pat the U.S. Service Award in 2006 for community service. She was California Teacher of the Year in 1986 and a Fulbright Scholar to India in 1987. After retiring from teaching Pat was a cast member in Disneyland, a teller in the Main Street bank.
Pat served as Grand Marshal of the 2012 Idyllwild Fourth of July Parade. “She hadn’t wanted the attention,” said Bob. “She was a very private person who never wanted the publicity. She liked ‘doing.’
Only two months later, Bob remembered their ride in the 2012 Fourth of July Parade as Grand Marshals. “She was hurting all the time but smiling every moment.”
“I had 13 extra months with her,” said Bob, recounting Pat’s battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “She kept hoping for a miracle,” he said. “She wanted more than anything to cast her vote in the November election.”
Bob recounted that before she died, she reminded him of what he needed to continue in his life: “Be good, listen up, pay attention and do good.”