Doris Parker

August 16, 1922 - January 17, 2000

I Remember Doris
by Vivian Pender, M.D.

Few remember the people who, without fanfare, shared their spirit with us. Doris June Sydnor Parker, the librarian at the Columbia Psychoanalytic Center for 25 years, was one such figure. She could, with a look, encourage and inform us. We were attached to her opinionated presence as she aided us in our development. For me, Doris Parker was that reliable source of strength when, as a candidate at Columbia, at times I felt unsure, lonely and powerless. Along with providing jelly beans and reprints on specially selected colored paper, she was always available for reassurance, the truth and what was of real importance. I felt connected to her advice, her interpretations and her sage guidance. She helped me to understand my children. For a visitor coming to the Center, her office—directly across from the ninth-floor elevator—was the first sight. Blond and tall, Doris couldn’t be missed. There may have been times when the elevator door opened and she wasn’t there, but I don’t remember that happening too often. Her office was a combination library–sanctuary–archival dustbin. If she wasn’t sitting at her desk, she was busily photocopying reprinted articles for us to read. I had the privilege of having some of the reading material hand-delivered to my home by Doris. Although we lived on the same street, this special service made me feel important. It was all the more urgent to do the reading; since it was frequently delivered, with all good intention, the evening before, I also had an infallible alibi if I didn’t finish preparing in time. My classmates and I thought Doris did these things for us because she alone understood and empathized with the burdens of analytic training. She didn’t think we should be treated like children. She appreciated our resistances. She had special folders for publications by Columbia authors, and writing became something to which to aspire.

Doris herself never published, although she seemed to know more than all of us. It may have been because I was young, with young children and a new job, but I thought I should be able to “do it all,” without needing help. As I tried to balance and juggle real life with regressed life, Doris and my analyst helped me to realize that they were the same but needed reorganization. Other candidates were balancing other crises, family and personal illness, moves, divorce, marriage, new babies, deaths in the family. It was Doris’s ethically sensitive approach that made us subjects, rather than situations.

Her New York Times obituary reads:

Doris June Sydnor Parker was born on August 16, 1922, in Rock Island, Illinois. She came to New York at 22. At six feet tall, she became a striking figure as a hat-check girl at the Three Deuces, a West 52nd Street nightclub, where she met Charlie (Bird) Parker in 1945. They began living together in 1946, (...) and were married in 1948 in Tijuana, Mexico, while he was on a West Coast tour (...).

It seems she was his muse, caring for his health while he was in rehabilitation for heroin addiction. In the early sixties in memory of her late husband she helped establishing the Charlie Parker Records label that issued many live recordings and re-releases of bebop’s greats. Although Doris was not a leader, she was nonetheless involved with the rise of social ideas; it isn’t difficult to envision Doris as a demure community and political activist who urged those in power to do the right thing. She might have enjoyed being known as a feminist. Her form of consciousness opened up the possibility of an investigation into human ideals and foibles. She was a founding member of the Veritas Therapeutic Community, an Upper West Side program to help young people with addictions. She established the Annual Evening with Friends of Charlie Parker in 1989 to raise money for Veritas. She encouraged the social benefit of those in need of community services: the disenfranchised without financial or other resources.

On January 2, at the West End Presbyterian Church, psychoanalysts, musicians, religious leaders, community activists and politicians, reflecting the different devotions of Doris Parker, attended her memorial service. Famous and powerful people—Congressman Charles Rangel, New York State Assemblyman Edward Sullivan, the Reverend Laura Jervis, musicians Max Roach and Jimmy Heath, and actress Brook Kerr—came to reminisce and perform. Dr. Deena Harris and I spoke for Doris’s psychoanalytic friends and family. We remembered her as our unsung hero, always there for us.

Doris reminded us of what was right in this world and to do the right thing in this life. As John Milton has written, in Sonnet XVI:

God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best: his state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.