Ron Parker Leads the Way
The Horned Frog football legend is a driving force behind TCU’s $1 billion Lead On fundraising campaign.
On the football field, Ronald C. Parker ’76 conquered.
In the business world, he achieved results with integrity.
Parker has now combined that business savvy and winning spirit to help lead the school’s largest fundraising campaign amid growing enrollment and rising national rankings for academics and athletics.
Engaging and charismatic, the TCU football celebrity bleeds purple. His 6-foot, 4-inch frame shows up wearing purple at every home football and basketball game.
“Ron is a wonderful cheerleader for TCU,” said Don Whelan, vice chancellor for university advancement. “He does not miss an opportunity to talk about the vision for the university, what we’re trying to accomplish and how the campaign supports that vision.”
Parker’s passion plus an ability to motivate people toward a common goal are why he’s co-chair of the $1 billion Lead On: A Campaign for TCU, which concludes this year during the school’s 150th anniversary. The campaign’s four priorities mirror TCU’s overall strategic plan: to strengthen academics, student scholarships, faculty and its $2.4 billion endowment.
“The goal is to constantly progress and be better tomorrow than we are today,” said Parker, a retired PepsiCo Inc. executive who is a TCU Trustee and member of the Neeley School of Business Board of Advisors. “If we can build a culture of the next generation of leaders, we’re good.”
From Field to Boardroom
Parker grew up in Brenham, Texas, a town of about 18,000 between Austin and Houston where his family raised cattle and planted cotton and corn. The small town also is the home of Blue Bell ice cream.
While Parker began school during segregation, he took on leadership roles after integration at Brenham High School, becoming a football captain and a member of the basketball team. His senior year, he was class president, voted most popular and named an All-Central Texas football player.
He played football at Brenham’s Blinn College, then transferred to TCU on a football scholarship. While a Horned Frog, the tight end and team captain had 33 receptions and two touchdowns, including 21 catches for 289 yards as a senior. He was inducted into the TCU Block T Hall of Fame in 2004.
His stats caught the attention of the Chicago Bears, which drafted him after he earned a bachelor’s in political science. Parker injured his knee during his rookie year in the NFL. Following the advice of mentor and Horned Frog booster the late Dick Lowe ’51, Parker left football for the business world, even working for Lowe’s oil company.
Parker eventually found his way to human resources, landing at PepsiCo. After almost 30 years, he retired in 2010 as senior vice president of human resources/labor relations and chief global diversity and inclusion officer of the then $60 billion company.
At PepsiCo, Parker crisscrossed the country, working in different areas to become a complete leader. He brings that same holistic approach to the TCU Board of Trustees, where he’s chair of the development committee. He also likes to sit in on other committee meetings to understand how all the pieces fit together.
“It’s the leadership of people like Ron who inspire us to do more,” said Pro Football Hall of Famer and fellow TCU Trustee LaDainian Tomlinson ’05. “At our board meetings, he’s the one who always comes up with intriguing questions to challenge us. The man is a wealth of knowledge.”
Even when Parker led more than 30 labor contract talks at PepsiCo, he prioritized people, said Steve Reinemund, former chairman and CEO of PepsiCo. “He has strong followings and is able to lead people to accomplish worthy goals. If Ron speaks, we listen.”
Now Parker juggles so many balls that friends and colleagues wonder when he sleeps. Even when walking his dog, Lola, he wears headphones so he also can talk on his cellphone. To relax, he plays golf or helps tend the Angus cattle on his family’s 300-acre ranch.
After retiring from PepsiCo, Parker took on high-profile leadership roles for global organizations intent on growing the ranks of and supporting professionals of color. As president and CEO of the Executive Leadership Council for six years, he grew membership and programs to boost the number of Black executives and board members. In 2019, he became president and CEO of the National Association of Securities Professionals, helping raise a record $1.1 million in 2022.
“He has the rare ability to improve and elevate organizations,” said Richard Turnley III, chairman of the national securities organization and director of institutional sales and marketing for Channing Capital Management in Atlanta. Parker is “able to organize, mobilize and motivate folks to reach a goal.”
Spreading the Word
At TCU, Parker sees his role as leading individuals to win as a team. Since he and campaign co-chair Dee J. Kelly Jr., a lawyer and partner at Kelly Hart & Hallman in Fort Worth, launched the effort in fall 2019, they’ve deepened TCU’s reach to high-profile supporters, wooed new donors and broadened community engagement.
As of the end of December 2022, TCU had raised $907 million, including $276 million for campus facilities and $631 million for people and programs. A previous multiyear fundraising campaign, which ended in 2012, raised $434 million.
Success requires building trust through sincerity and transparency, Parker said. That genuineness shines when he speaks about what TCU means to him and his family. He focuses on the university’s qualities that are important to him — a reimagined campus, its national rank as the 89th best university in the U.S. and the Horned Frog football team’s recent renown.
“We have found a way of making it personal,” Parker said. That includes matching potential donors with their interests, such as approaching Mary Ralph Lowe to name the Ralph Lowe Energy Institute in her late father’s honor. Or convincing the late Nashville businessman Spencer Hays ’59 and his wife, Marlene, to give $30 million for the Neeley School of Business. Personal connection also means sending individualized thank-you notes to every donor.
For Parker, a self-professed data guy, it’s a simple investment and return equation.
“Businesspeople talk about ROI — return on investment; Ron talks about ROR — return on relationships,” said Whelan, who has known Parker for 20 years. “Ron is very charismatic. He has helped open a lot of doors for us.”
As of early December, more than 54,000 people had donated to the Lead On campaign, up from slightly over 40,000 in the previous campaign.
“Ron’s a natural leader and he loves people,” said Kelly, whose late father, Dee J. Kelly ’50, was an Emeritus Trustee. “He’s particularly good with keeping the volunteers and employees working toward the goal.”
Alumni, students, friends and parents in a nationwide volunteer group act as ambassadors for the Lead On campaign. That networking strategy helped Parker and his wife, Paula Rhodes Parker ’77, exceed their goal to raise $109 million while co-chairing the Campaign Scholarship Initiative in 2012. Paula Parker is now a volunteer leader on the Lead On National Campaign Committee.
Walk the Talk
The Parkers met at TCU, where Paula pursued a bachelor’s in nursing. They began supporting the university not long after they wed in 1978. They bought season football tickets, even though they couldn’t afford them, and donated to scholarships when they could.
“IT’S THE LEADERSHIP OF PEOPLE LIKE RON WHO INSPIRE US TO DO MORE. AT OUR BOARD MEETINGS, HE’S THE ONE WHO ALWAYS COMES UP WITH INTRIGUING QUESTIONS TO CHALLENGE US. THE MAN IS A WEALTH OF KNOWLEDGE.”
LaDainian Tomlinson '05
Their first major TCU gift was a football scholarship in 2006. Since then, they established the Ron and Paula Parker Endowed Scholarship for a tight end, recently awarded to Geor’Quarius Spivey ’22 and Carter Ware ’21; the Harris College Scholarship for Nursing; and an endowed professorship in the Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences, now held by Carol Howe. They also supported other TCU projects, including the renovations of Amon G. Carter Stadium and Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena. They received the Alumni Association’s Valuable Alumni Award in 2012.
“The reason why Paula and I are so passionate about TCU,” Parker said, “is because that’s where it all started with us.”
Even though Paula Parker grew up in Dallas, she had never been to Fort Worth before attending TCU as a first-generation college student.
“This was my first step out, and what a place to land,” said the retired registered nurse who went back to work during the Covid pandemic as a nurse at a Dallas preschool. “I always felt like I was safe and OK.”
Paula Parker is on the Harris College Board of Visitors and has held leadership roles with the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and the Texas Women’s Foundation.
Inspiring the Next Generation
Paying it forward, the Parkers help others as others have helped them. They focus their philanthropy on three areas: education, health care and diversity.
Their efforts also reach beyond TCU. In 2018, the couple co-founded the Donors of Color Network, the first cross-racial group committed to achieving racial equity.
“I try to step into the gaps where I see a need,” Ron Parker said. “I’m all about equity.”
He also hopes to foster change by serving on the boards of many companies and nonprofit groups, including the United Way Foundation of Metropolitan Dallas and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.
The Parkers also instilled their altruistic philosophy in their three children, two of whom, Lauren ’07 and Jonathan ’08 MBA, are TCU alumni.
“They taught us that you have an obligation to give back, that we’ve been fortunate and to pay it forward,” said Lauren Parker, a Dallas resident who sits on the TCU Chancellor’s Advisory Council. “I love the university as much as my parents do.”
That’s music to her father’s ears.
“The whole idea is to transfer that knowledge to the next generation,” he said. “I have amassed some tremendous experience and if I don’t use it in a useful way then … I have not done enough.”
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