Parker Westbrook, 1926-2015

Yesterday afternoon, Thursday, November 19, 2015, Parker Westbrook passed away.

12239757_10101856301568777_1505942690561587913_nIf you ever met Parker Westbrook you know that he was an Arkansan through and through with roots deep in southwest Arkansas. His home in Nashville and Washington, Arkansas was very dear to him. Robert McCord said in the Arkansas Times that he had “worked for more federal politicians than any other person in Arkansas.” It was clear, however, that among those politicians it was Senator William J. Fulbright and Governor David Pyror he was the proudest of having served.

Westbrook was front and center for the formation of most of the infrastructure of Arkansas’s historic preservation movement. Aside from being the founding President of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas, now called Preserve Arkansas, he was a founding board member—or at least a 11219607_996488107855_239856392321079625_nboard member–of virtually every historic preservation body in the state. This list includes the Pioneer Washington Foundation (the oldest historic preservation organization in the state), the Department of Arkansas Heritage Advisory Board, the Main Street Arkansas Advisory Board, Historic Arkansas Museum Commission, the Arkansas State Capitol Association, and the Arkansas State Review Board for Historic Preservation which he served on from its founding in 1975 until his death (with the exception of 5 years between 2002-2007). Parker was inducted to the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism’s hall of Fame in 2007 in recognition for all his hard work promoting heritage tourism in Arkansas.

Westbrook was a presence in historic preservation on the national stage as well. He served on the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation during the Clinton administration, was named Chairman of the NPS Committee on National Historic Landmarks and was an advisor to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 2001 Parker received a Preservation Honor Award from the Trust which acknowledged him as a “National Treasure.”

On a personal note, I’ve known Parker Westbrook since the 1990s and I served on the State Review Board for Historic Preservation with him for the last 5 years. I was always grateful for his support of my archeological work at Historic Washington State Park and he was always been a wonderful source of institutional knowledge and history for me. He had a way of working his ideas into your consciousness and whenever I use the possessive form of Arkansas or talk about the “mother counties” of the state, or counties with two county seats, I will think of Parker. I am proud to serve as the current president of an organization that he made possible. Historic preservation in Arkansas would not be what it is if it were not for Parker Westbrook, and it will not be the same with out him.

Preserve Arkansas’s lifetime achievement award is named after Parker Westbrook. At this year’s Preserve Arkansas Awards on January 15, 2016, we will pay tribute to the man after which the award is named. Members and friends of Preserve Arkansas are invited to join us in this celebration of Parker and his legacy. Memorial donations can also be made to the fund established by Parker and held by the Arkansas Community Foundation (ARCF). Contributions can be made to ARCF with the memo Parker Westbrook Endowment. 

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