A lifelong advocate for health

New cancer survivorship fund honors Rick Parker

For 39 years, Rick Parker has dedicated his career to improving healthcare for others and connecting generous donors to Novant Health’s mission to deliver remarkable care throughout the communities it serves. When he retires at the end of 2020 from his role as executive director of Novant Health Rowan Medical Center Foundation, he will conclude a career that began entirely by accident. Literally.

When Parker was a sophomore in college, he was involved in a motorcycle accident and suffered a compound fracture in his leg. He was hospitalized for six weeks in two facilities, where doctors put him in traction. Eighteen months passed before he was able to walk again.

Through that experience, Parker came to understand and value the importance of quality healthcare. With his newly gained perspective, he started his professional journey, and it’s a move he never regretted.

“The healthcare industry is one of the most cognitively stimulating industries in the world,” Parker said. “It’s just a fascinating business. I truly woke up every day — and I still do — excited about coming to work because there’s just so many different opportunities to keep you motivated, both intellectually and emotionally.”

Parker joined Rowan Memorial Hospital in 1981 to launch a patient advocacy program. Over the next several decades, he adapted to various roles and responsibilities to keep up with the changing times. He worked with professional and support services, such as imaging, pharmacy, laboratory, environmental, dietary, discharge planning just to name a few among many other functions of the hospital.

“I just kept taking on additional duties — sometimes responsibilities other people did not want to deal with,” Parker said.

In 2013, Rowan Medical Center Foundation needed a new executive director, and Parker was ready for the challenge. The role provided him with an opportunity he’d always wanted: to help the community in a focused way. He was nervous about fundraising early on, but it came naturally to him.

“I started my careergoing down the road of, ‘How can I help the community have better healthcare?’” Parker said. “So, I never felt like I was really asking anybody for any money. I was just asking people if they wanted to participate in something that would be a game changer.”

Throughout his tenure, Parker helped Novant Health raise money for the first residential hospice facility in Rowan County and for 3D mammography technology to improve breast health services. One shining example of Parker’s work has been the Novant Health Wallace Cancer Institute, which opened in 2020. The facility brings research, treatment, prevention and rehabilitation together under one roof, easing some of the stressors oncology patients and their families endure. Parker said he is happy to retire having helped bring such a valuable resource to the community. The way the project came together was just, as he puts it, “magical.”

“I’ve done a lot of projects over the years, and this one had no flaws whatsoever,” Parker said. “When we started construction, it did not rain for five months. Normally when you start construction, it feels like a rainy season begins, and you get behind. We did not get behind on this project. In fact, we built a 32,000-square-foot facility and opened it in 12 and a half months. It’s just unheard of.”

For Parker, the philanthropic role has led him to partner with people who already had a passion for healthcare and simply needed his guidance on how to impact the community. He remembers receiving an unexpected donation of $500,000. It was a moment that took his breath away.

“I was shocked,” Parker said. “I raised the roof after I hung up the phone that day.”

Today, Novant Health Foundation has a surprise of its own: the launch of a new Cancer Survivor Fund to honor Parker. Because fighting cancer often creates financial strains for patients and families, the Cancer Survivor Fund will provide financial assistance to cancer patients receiving care at the Wallace Cancer Institute. The fund will help these community members cover the cost of necessities such as housing, utilities, transportation and nutritional supplements.

As Parker reflects on his time with Novant Health, he is grateful for the opportunity to serve his team members and the community.

“I’m forever grateful to Novant health,” Parker said. “I’ve really enjoyed becoming part of this remarkable healthcare team.”

As far as what is next, Parker is looking forward to spending time with his grandchildren and enjoying outdoor adventures. He recently inherited his father’s Harley Davidson motorcycle, and he has begun to enjoy the open roads again.

“I always thought, if I got to the end of my life and I was asked, ‘Were you able to help one person and expect nothing in return?’ would I be able to answer that question?” Parker said. “I can answer ‘yes’ now.”

You now have an opportunity to help those in need and honor Rick Parker and his legacy of impact in his community Through a donation to the Cancer Survivor Fund, you can help survivors and families enjoy life again, free from cancer and financial stress. Make your gift today.

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