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My Giving Story: Marie Giddings Parker

A mother’s legacy lives on

May 26, 2015 | by Jenna Brown


My Giving Story: Marie Giddings Parker

Marie Giddings Parker (right) is pictured with her daughter Kelly, mother Tonee, and daughter Jennifer on her wedding day in 1984.

With each new generation comes a greater appreciation of the generation before.  For Marie Giddings Parker ’60, her mother was a source of inspiration who instilled in her the value of creating opportunities to help people reach their full potential.

Parker’s mother, Antoinette Scienza Giddings Ralston, called “Tonee,” was a gifted artist who enjoyed painting and gifting creative projects to friends and family members.  She was a first generation American who valued the importance of education, despite never having the chance to attend college.

Parker valued her mother’s hard work ethic and determination to provide for her to have the opportunity to go to college.  Parker fulfilled her mother’s hopes to pursue a college education when she enrolled in the Woman’s College at Duke University.  During her undergraduate years, Parker studied abroad in France and discovered a love of travelling.  Her time abroad was an invaluable part of her education.

Parker shared in her mother’s love for art, creating beautiful works of calligraphy, illuminated letters, and watercolor paintings.  She was also a lifelong student of classical music and an accomplished pianist.

In the midst of her youth, Parker was diagnosed with cancer at 21 years old.

Despite the diagnosis, she did not let it define her and chose to live a purposeful and fulfilling life.  Parker married her Duke sweetheart, Julius Frederick “Fred” Parker, Jr., and together they had three children, Rick, Kelly, and Jennifer.  She continued to create artistic works throughout her lifetime, and loved to travel anywhere that she could continue to practice the French language she learned as a student.

“Because of her cancer diagnosis, I think she always knew she wouldn’t have long in the world, but it was important to her to make a mark and to leave the world a better place,” her daughter Jennifer Parker LaVia ‘85 remembers.

Parker named part of her estate to Duke to create an endowment.  The Antoinette Giddings Ralston Scholarship, named in honor of Tonee, provides financial aid support to help make a Duke education accessible to students who might otherwise not be able to afford full tuition.

“My mom felt fortunate to go to Duke and to send her children to college,” said LaVia.  “She wanted to make sure that other families have the same opportunity.”

In 1990, Parker, a 52 year-old beloved mother, wife, and friend, passed away.

“That left a big hole in our lives, but it is a great comfort to us to know that her legacy continues,” said LaVia.  “Even though both my mother and grandmother have been gone for almost 25 years, they live on through their family and through the lives that the scholarship fund is able to touch.”

LaVia shares more about the legacy her mother’s gift provides:

Why did your mother name the scholarship endowment after her mother, Antoinette Scienza Giddings Ralston?

My mom felt that she was very fortunate to have been able to go to college.  My grandmother, Tonee, was the breadwinner of the family. My mom was extremely proud of her mother and appreciated how hard she worked to provide her with the opportunity to go to college.  I also think that knowing she would probably die young led her to seek a little bit of immortality, but she was much too modest to name a fund after herself.

Why did your mother think philanthropy and giving back are important?

My mom always believed that it was important to give back to the community.  Her first priority was raising healthy, responsible children and after that, she wanted to contribute to society.

She and my father were both strong supporters of the arts, financially and as a volunteer serving on boards for the local symphony and acting as president of a local art foundation.

My parents always valued education above anything else.  My mom was a trained French teacher. Although she chose to stay at home with her children, she was always a teacher at heart. In fact, even when she was so sick with the cancer that would finally kill her, she was volunteering at the local jail to teach an inmate how to read. 

What were your mother’s hopes and aspirations for Duke?

My father and mother both attended Duke as undergraduates, which is where they met. Duke is also where I attended and met my husband, Jay LaVia ’83.  Duke has always been a special place for our family, and we all made friendships at Duke that will last a lifetime

My mother was proud of her Duke degree and wanted to see Duke continue to be a prestigious university.  She was very proud of the fact that she included Duke in her will and she understood how important financial support is to the university.  She also understood the value of an endowed fund because of its perpetual nature.  My mother would be astounded at the progress that Duke has made in the 24 years since she passed. 

About the author

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Jenna Brown Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications

Jenna joined the Duke University Development Marketing and Communications team in 2014. She manages publicity for University Development gift announcements, and develops marketing and communications strategies for University Development partners, schools, units and initiatives.

Prior to University Development, Jenna worked as a pediatric development communications specialist at Duke Children’s Hospital, and previously in the video streaming technology industry. A Raleigh native, she earned her B.A. in public relations from North Carolina State University and resides in Durham.

Jenna Brown can be contacted via email or by phone at (919) 681-0351.

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