The Friendraiser

By Brittney Haynes

To view Tomm McGahee's audio slide show on Parker Middleton, click the image.

To view Tomm McGahee's audio slide show on Parker Middleton, click the image.

Come through the front entrance of the Grady College where above the double wooden doors it reads “Democracy’s Next Generation.” Enter the glass door on your left, and you’re greeted by Sean Polite. And his last name is no misnomer – his voice is soft and friendly, and he’ll tell you anything you need to know. Pass his desk and hang a left. You’ll catch a glimpse of adobe red walls as you approach. The door’s always open. Parker Middleton is always glad to see you.

Any given morning, you can find her at her desk answering emails. This particular Monday at 9 a.m. is no different. But not for much longer – she’s on her way across the hallway to “meet with the Dean.” 

Parker Middleton, 54, stands tall and poised in a sharp yet feminine gray suit. Her blond hair and clothes are impeccable and it’s no mistake. She’s a woman of intent and understands the communication of appearance. Her smile is unwavering and sincere. 

She enters Dean E. “Cully” Clark’s office to find him reclined at his table across from a new friend. They stand up to greet her and I. He introduces himself as Scot Morrissey, publisher of the Athens Banner-Herald. And I, in turn, introduce myself.

“Brittney, here, is one of sixteen students who we had the pleasure of visiting with in Washington, D.C.,” Dean Cully says beaming. His intonation makes everything sound profound. This sparks conversation, and from this point, it’s clear I’m not just a spectator today. I’m in “the circle.”

The Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication is one of the top journalism schools in the nation. Its graduates have found homes in many areas of communications field, such as in broadcasting, print journalism and even Capitol Hill. This college is all about connection. What you know is right up there with who you know. And in Dean Cully’s office, it’s inherently clear.

Scot Morrissey and Cully relax into similar reclines, with one leg folded on top of the other. Parker sits comfortably with one hand on her cheek. She listens intently as the men ease into a conversation about quails, sparked by Scot’s notice of a statue on Cully’s shelf. For a while, they shoot the breeze, like old friends. They speak of paintings, Blackberry phones, cool websites and everything in between. But oddly enough, they’re not old friends. They’ve just met.

“Isn’t he just brilliant? He gets it!” Parker tells me later. During their conversation, Scot shares his insight with Cully and Parker on evolution in the media and the potential to revive the art of storytelling. And they soak it up.

Parker interjects occasionally. She sees every nugget of information as an opportunity. By this point, it’s apparent that her job title, director of development, disservices her. 

Instead, she offers a better description. Parker feels her job is to connect the college with resources to extend its reputation and increase audience engagement and investment. 

“Director of development is just too narrow,” she admits. 

Much of her job is not just building relationships, but also making them mutually beneficial. 

“That’s what friendship is, isn’t it? There’s that desire to advance that person and they do the same for you.”

The guest of honor at today’s meeting (or perhaps “chat” would be a more accurate description), Scot Morrissey initiated this new friendship with Grady. 

“He just came to us and said, ‘I want to help. What can I do?’” And it’s Parker’s job to assess the wants and needs of the college and match them with Scot’s own. 

“Asking for money is just too impersonal,” Parker says. “That doesn’t engage people. And sometimes people just don’t have much of it.”

Instead, she sees greater resources. 

“People are our greatest resource.”

Out of Morrissey’s interest in the college has come “Technology for the Turnaround Day” in which Morrissey will deliver an interactive lecture for students and faculty. And it doesn’t seem that his interest in Grady stops there.

Parker and the Dean have begun to discuss some of the endeavors of Grady students and staff. 

“Kaye Sweetser’s class is doing a viral video project,” Parker explains to Scot. “The topic is what is means to be a Grady student.”

“Really?” he says, interest piqued.  “Do you know when they’re showing that? I’d love to swing by.”

“We’d love to have you swing by,” Parker smiles yet again.

Part of her relationship with the college is the students. Parker taught in the University of Georgia English department (her training is rhetoric) before switching to her first position at Grady College. At Grady, she assisted with undergraduate services where she saw the opportunity to improve communication between the college and its students. Even in her new role as director of development, she continues to seek ways to enhance Grady’s relationship with its students as well as outside parties. And although she admits to missing the student-teacher interaction, she tries to make up for it in different ways.

“Sometimes, I just inject myself into their activities,” Parker says. It reminds herself of the intellectual powerhouse that Grady College is and also of the potential of more mutually beneficial relationships. As of late, she’s benefited from a relationship with Danielle Sender. A senior public relations student, Danielle is someone Parker considers an expert in social media.

“She’s helping me make sure I’m using social media to its full potential in communicating. Isn’t that fun?” Today’s generation of students is immersed in new and social media. As many companies like CNN and Zappos are finding ways to utilize it to reach their audiences, so is Parker. In social media applications such as LinkedIn and Facebook, she’s finding a way to improve her way of messaging. 

But aside from being a communicator and rhetorician, she also still sees herself as a teacher, even within the Dean’s office. 

“A teacher inspires people to ideas and possibilities,” Parker says. “We help them realize these goals and get connected.”

By this reasoning, she considers herself and her colleagues as each other’s educators. Although she regards education, rhetorics and communication as her ‘passion,’ someone close to her disagrees.

“’Passion’ is a word that’s just overused,” says Dr. Kent Middleton, her husband, colleague, and sometimes, her unofficial editor. “She’s more than passion. She has a sincere dedication to her work and the success of the students of the college. I don’t know a better word for it, but it’s greater than passion.”

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