Joan Parker, famous for role in husband’s ‘Spenser’ and her own charity, dead at 80

Joan Parker is honored in 2007 at the dedication of a building named for her by the charity Community Servings.

Joan Parker is honored in 2007 at the dedication of a building named for her by the charity Community Servings.

Joan H. Parker, of Ash Street, educator, charity fundraiser and widow of mystery writer Robert B. Parker, is dead at 80, The New York Times is reporting.

The cause is given as lung cancer.

She was born Joan Hall on Oct. 16, 1932, in Pittsfield and grew up in Swampscott. She and Robert Parker met as students at Colby College in Maine, marrying in 1956 and bearing two sons, Daniel (an actor who played the character Spike in television movies about Spenser, the detective created by his father) and David (whose name was once to be given to Spenser, before it was decided Spenser’s first name was never to be known). She taught at at Endicott College in Beverly, was later director of curriculum for public schools in northeastern Massachusetts, wrote with her husband and was identified as “a powerhouse fundraiser for people with HIV and AIDS” in a 2010 profile in the Times.

The Parkers wrote “Three Weeks in Spring” in 1978 about her double mastectomy and “A Year at the Races” in 1990 about their year following racehorses from training in South Carolina to competition. They also collaborated on teleplays for the “Spenser: For Hire” and “A Man Called Hawk” series, which ran on the ABC network in 1985–88 and 1989, respectively.

In addition to mentioning her as the model for Spenser’s girlfriend, psychologist Susan Silverman, the Times profile by Joyce Wadler after Robert Parker’s death at 77 in January 2010 described the Parkers’ “unconventional marriage” arrived at as a solution after a two-year separation:

They lived together, but separately, he on the ground floor of their Victorian house, she on the second floor. They had separate kitchens and bathrooms and, to a great extent, led separate lives. She was at charity functions most weeknights; he preferred staying in and watching baseball …

After Mr. Parker died this winter at his desk, following a heart attack, there were those who told Ms. Parker she was luckier than most, that the separate accommodations were a rehearsal for widowhood. They were partly right, Ms. Parker says. She does not have to adjust, say, to not seeing her husband puttering about the kitchen because she had her own kitchen.

The profile, focused on how Joan Parker redesigned her home to go on living there without sadness, notes that she kept a chinning bar set up in the home, a 14-room Victorian near Harvard Square and the Charles River bought in 1986 for $850,000. (WBUR-FM’s “Here & Now” program toured it with Joan Parker, in pictures and audio, in 2011.)

The obituary posted Thursday, also written by Wadler, describes Joan Parker as “a witty, irreverent woman who favored black leather pants and high-heel boots,” stayed active in charity work and until recent years was fit enough to run the Harvard Stadium steps.

In addition to her work on HIV and AIDs charities, she was a longtime benefactor of Community Servings, an organization founded in Cambridge that delivers nutritional meals to critically ill people throughout the state. After years as a board member, board officer and campaign chair, she was rewarded in 2007 with the dedication of the Joan H. Parker Building at the charity’s new Jamaica Plain home.

“I’ve never seen anyone so eager to delve into a problem, tease out a response and marshal the troops to move forward with an effective plan,” said David B. Waters, the organization’s chief executive, at the dedication. “She is a dream board member – believing in us passionately, even when we don’t believe in ourselves. And always, always committed to the mission, the long-term vibrancy of the agency and the vision of feeding more and more sick neighbors.”

Materials from throughout the Parkers’ life are stored in The Robert B. And Joan H. Parker Collection at The Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.

The full Times item is here. Funeral arrangements are not described; Robert Parker’s arrangements were under the direction of the Wadsworth-Chiappini Funeral Home in Framingham.

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