Remembering Randy Parks, a math teacher for the ages

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Randy Parks at Northampton High School.

BY TED SHOCKLEY, Eastern Shore Post —

Those who knew Randy Parks, the inimitable former Northampton High School teacher, would not be surprised at the after-death instructions on which he insisted. 

Parks, lovably gruff and a bit idiosyncratic, demanded that he have no funeral and no obituary. He advised his daughter to use the cheapest cremation service available — preferably something less than $1,000.

“It was typical dad,” said his daughter, Lydia Pugh, of Virginia Beach.

After six months — “By six months, you can get over my death,” he told his daughter — he gave permission to throw a party in his memory, when the grieving is finished. 

“He didn’t want anybody to be sad,” said Pugh, who told her father she might not simply “get over” his death in a mere six months.

He wasn’t having it. “You need to get it together,” he said.

It was classic Randy Parks — pragmatic and straightforward, but in a big-hearted way, with a sly grin. 

Parks, who was 78 when he died this past Dec. 30, taught advanced mathematics — calculus and the like —  at Northampton High for more than four decades. 

Afterward, he was among those who advocated for an elected school board and won election to it. 

He had quite a presence with his full beard, John Lennon-style eyeglasses, and a voice that was all gravel and cigarettes. 

He had high expectations for students but also a soft spot for them.

“He literally taught everyone,” Pugh said.

Parks is the latest of the bedrock Eastern Shore educators to pass away. Their deaths are startling to their former students, who have nostalgic, frozen-in-time memories of caring educators who never gave up on kids. 

Hardly a week goes by without hearing about the death of a true local educational treasure — people who sacrificed their earning potential elsewhere to make a difference in Eastern Shore schools.

Some of them, like Parks, were so synonymous with local education that it is impossible to imagine life without them, even years after their retirement.

Those lifelong educators, school nurses, and other staff members have a prominent, influential spot in our communities — and our hearts. 

Parks was one of those expert teachers who enjoyed helping. After he retired, he was asked to come back to Northampton High to teach a group of ninth-grade students who couldn’t pass their class or their state-mandated standardized tests. 

Pugh said he used peer instruction as well as lecture. They all passed their state tests.

“This was one of his proudest moments,” she said.

Himself a Northampton High graduate, Parks earned a degree from Virginia Tech and then joined the Peace Corps, where his duties included teaching in a prison in Colombia.

After retirement, he continued his love of traveling. Pugh said he stopped giving Christmas presents to his children — except for a pair of socks given each year — and instead took them traveling.

Pugh and her brothers, Zachary Parks of Virginia Beach, Jacob Parks of Cheriton, and Carter Parks of Eastville, ended up in Spain, Portugal, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and more. 

In retirement Parks also built his dream home at Smith Beach with some help. He enjoyed hosting his children and grandchildren there. 

Parks had prostate cancer that had been treated but worsened. He wanted to sell his body to science but his condition at death prevented it. 

“He was just so grateful for this life he had lived,” she said.

Our community is grateful he lived it here. 

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