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Archive for June, 2010

Tony Parker, My Dad

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Sorry I’ve been absent. I went to Minneapolis 2 weeks ago when my father suddenly became ill. I arrived, as did other family members who lived away, in time to see him, talk to him and kiss him one last time. He died in the hospital peacefully, surrounded by all of us. I’m missing him more than I can say and want to share some things about him.

My father held celebrity status in the Twin Cities for 30 years as a television and radio sports broadcaster, and later, as a teacher at a nearby University. A full-blooded Italian, Dad was the epitome of tall, dark and handsome. He had a beautifully articulate and deep speaking voice, and could sing like Bing Crosby, though I only heard it when the kids begged  him to join the neighborhood Christmas caroling. As a young and upcoming television anchor he was encouraged to leave behind his Italian surname for a more fitting sportscaster name – Tony Parker. Though the family continued to go by Oliveto, his new name did fit him and that’s how he is known to this day.

My Dad was either blessed or cursed with 4 sisters and later, 4 daughters, depending on how you look at it. I do remember that he used to say it was “like living in the YWCA all of your life.” Being a tomboy obsessed with, first, horses and then with several sports, may have been my way of attempting to wiggle into my Dad’s world more deeply – and when I was 13, he joined my twin and I on the ski slopes, taking beginning lessons right along with us. He was as strict as they came in those days and worked a lot when I was a kid – all day and back again for the 10pm sportscast most nights. He had that kind of work ethic and discipline. Yet, if you needed him, he was always there – ready to take care of everything in that important Father way. I learned to depend on that and fortunately, I think I’ll always feel it.

I’ve especially enjoyed reading the tributes from my father’s colleagues that are gathering online and in Twin Cities publications as they illuminate some of the ways he shared that part of himself with others. The excerpt below is from an article written by one of his former students who considered him a mentor and role model.
Posted May 30, 2010 by John Holler

Many remember Tony Parker as the former Channel 9 sports anchor or a writer for Viking Update. He was even better off the field, where his kindness and caring extended to family, students and understudies.

This past week, the Viking Update family suffered a loss that will leave a void. Longtime VU staple Tony Parker passed away after years of declining health. He was covering Minnesota sports before the Vikings were even a concept for the Upper Midwest. He was there for the inaugural season and didn’t stop covering the team until five years ago.

What made Tony good at his craft, covering sports for KMSP-TV for 30 years and being involved in the Twin Cities media in other capacities for 20 more, was his believability. He had “the look” in the pre-hot comb era of TV news personalities. He was Italian – his real name was Anthony Oliveto. In the mid-50s, a name like that brought up images of a Mafiosi. Come to think of it, it still does. The station manager who first hired him told him he had to lose the Italian surname. TV in the ‘50s was still akin to Ellis Island. “Your name is Parker. Get out there.” The rest was history.

He was a pro’s pro in the sports media business in the Twin Cities. He had a certain “cool factor” – the kind that made Dean Martin a star. Women liked his look and men could see themselves having a drink with him and talking sports. But what made Tony stand out was the part of his life few people ever saw.

By the time I met Tony 20 years ago, he was easing his way into retirement. He was still working – every time he thought he was out, something pulled him back in (the curse of Italians). He was hired to teach a sports communication class at St. Cloud State. He taught budding newspaper writers, radio broadcasters, TV reporters, sports information students and public relations hopefuls. When I saw he was teaching a class, I signed up immediately. I wanted to learn from a veteran.

He opened each class to questions and answers and I would ask him to give us the skinny about the local Twin Cities media. Not one to be shy, I told him that a lot of students would go to a downtown bar after class for the Long Island Tea special. He declined at first, but I persisted. The next week, he relented – “I could use a cup of coffee for the drive home.” Within two weeks, he would start class by saying things like, “If we run through this, we should be finished up by 8:30 and can head down to D.B.’s.” Although he was in his sixties and we were scratching the surface of our twenties, Tony bonded with us and was always willing to give us realistic advice about the behind-the-scenes world of the media.

Fortunately, Tony especially took a shine to me. When a position opened at VU, Tony insisted that Lurts hire me. He told me to clean up and come down to interview with Bob. I was nervous because I was one of the few football fans knowledgeable enough to remember Lurts as a player, not a pitchman. Tony had talked me up and I didn’t want to let him down.

That was the kind of person Tony was. He would go to bat for you if he thought he could help you – personally or professionally. He never wavered on that. He was a rarity…thanks to the Metrodome press box seating chart, I was the luckiest guy in the press corps. I sat between Tony and Steve Cannon, two of the nicest, most genuine media types I ever met. Yeah, I was their coffee boy, but I did it willingly and gladly. They deserved the respect.

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