Obituary: Dorothea L. Parker / First black female to serve as sheriff's deputy
Dec. 15, 1927 - Jan. 12, 2011
January 17, 2011 5:00 AM
By Mary Niederberger Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Dorothea L. Parker made history in 1968 when she became the first African-American female sheriff's deputy in Allegheny County, but it was her family and extended network of friends and loved ones that brought the greatest joy to her life, according to family members.
Mrs. Parker, 83, of the Hill District, died of breast cancer at the Penn Hills home of her daughter, Antoinette Parker, on Wednesday.
Mrs. Parker, a mother of five, was actively involved in the lives of her children, serving on the PTA and as a Cub Scout den mother and later working as a school crossing guard, said her daughter, Marlana Edge.
As her children grew older, Mrs. Parker took a job in the Allegheny County prothonotary's office and then later as a sheriff's deputy, a job she held until 1989. During that career, Mrs. Parker was known for her compassion and calm demeanor.
Mrs. Edge said there were two particularly notable memories from her mother's time as a sheriff's deputy. In 1978, a man who stole a gun had jumped on a bus and was threatening the bus driver. Mrs. Parker and another female officer were able to talk the gunman into surrendering.
Another time, Mrs. Edge said, a man showed up in court for sentencing along with his two young children. When the man was taken off to jail, Mrs. Parker took the children home and cared for them until family members could be located.
It was also part of Mrs. Parker's job to transport female prisoners to the facilities to which they were sentenced. While at the prisons, she would visit inmates whose families she knew from the area.
"She would come home and call their parents and let them know they were OK. She was always doing something extra, something above and beyond the call of duty," Mrs. Edge said.
Mrs. Parker also was a Democratic committeewoman, past president of AARP Chapter 4706 and United Methodist Women and a 50-year member of the Warren United Methodist Church in the Hill District.
After Mrs. Parker retired from the sheriff's office, she made it her full-time job to cook and care for friends and family.
Vera Shelton, a friend of Mrs. Edge, said she felt so at home in the Parker house that she started to call Mrs. Parker "mom," as did others. "She was always looking out for everyone, always feeding you and always made you feel comfortable at her home. I knew I could always turn to her," Ms. Shelton said.
She said when the family held a "Smell the Roses" celebration for Mrs. Parker in September at Ebenezer Baptist Church, a service at which loved ones brought flowers and tributes, the church was packed. "She was overwhelmed that night because she was loved by so many people," Ms. Shelton said.
In addition to her daughters, Mrs. Parker is survived by her husband of 64 years, Emanuel; sons Douglas Parker of the Hill District and Gerald Parker Sr. of Penn Hills; 15 grandchildren; 25 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild. She was preceded in death by her son, Emanuel.
Visitation is from 2 to 9 p.m. today at Warren United Methodist Church, 2604 Centre Ave., Hill District, where a service will be held at noon Tuesday. Burial will be in Allegheny Cemetery.