The Legacy of Lee Bryan Parker, Jr., M.D.

Lee Parker, M.D.

By Tracy Rogers, Family Medicine Residency Coordinator

Lee Bryan Parker, Jr., M.D., the original center director at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Area Health Education Center (AHEC) in Northwest Arkansas (now the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus), died peacefully at Circle of Life Hospice in Springdale on Aug. 13, 2020, at the age of 91.

Dr. Parker, UAMS College of Medicine class of 1954, first joined UAMS in 1973 as the Continuing Medical Education director for physicians statewide. When the AHEC opened in Fayetteville in 1975 in the clinic where he, Don Baker, M.D., and Jim Patrick, M.D., practiced, Dr. Parker became the center director and administrator, while Dr. Patrick took on the role of residency director of the new Family Medicine Residency program. Dr. Parker served as center director from 1975 until 1996 when he officially “retired.” Dr. Parker never fully retired, however, as he was still serving as a preceptor in the UAMS Family Medical Centers as recently as last December.

“I remember his dedication to continuing medical education and fiscal conservatism as an administrator,” said Linda McGhee, M.D., Family Medicine Residency faculty since 1978 and the program’s former director. “After retirement, he continued to be a valuable team member as a part-time clinic attending physician. From 1996 on, his teaching skills bloomed.”

Dr. Lee Parker, M.D.Dr. Parker was a fixture in the attending office for many years and could be seen coming through the door each morning wearing a trench coat, bow tie, and fedora hat carrying his little white coffee pot and ready for the day. He was also known for wearing white (or light blue) coats with an AHEC patch and a pin to showcase his pride in his military service.

“As an attending in clinic, he always wore a smile and his light blue lab coat with his ‘I survived damn near everything’ button,” said Family Medicine Residency program director, Michael Macechko, M.D., who graduated from the residency program in 2012 and is the current program director.

“Dr. Parker and I started working together in 2006 when I became the center director for AHEC Northwest,” remembered Robert Gullett, Jr., M.D. “He was most knowledgeable about the center and its history. Through written notes and conversations, he provided me with both information and inspiration. As a result, we developed a personal relationship. He was full of progressive ideas and ways of doing things challenging the status quo.”

Dr. Lee Parker, M.D.As Dr. Parker reached his 80s and even 90s as an attending physician, he became known around the Family Medicine Residency office as “Jurassic Parker,” a nickname coined lovingly by long-time residency coordinator Janice Huddleston. On his off days, Dr. Parker would often show up in Razorback track suits to visit – and sometimes his wife of 68 years, Beverly, would join him in  a matching track suit – or, with his usual sarcasm and wit, he would wear t-shirts poking fun at his age that said things like “Old as Dirt.”

“I will always appreciate Dr. Parker for his sense of humor, but also his lifelong dedication to the education of medical students and family medicine residents,” said Ronald Brimberry, M.D., Family Medicine Residency associate program director. “Without his vision, Northwest Arkansas may not have had the excellent Family Medicine Residency program that he helped to establish. He has enriched the lives of countless patients, fellow physicians and other healthcare professionals. He will be missed.”

Dr. Parker taught and influenced 45 years of family medicine residents through the UAMS Family Medicine Residency program. He taught everything from patient care to the business of medicine and beyond. He was a mentor and a friend to many of the residents he taught.

“I received countless current journal articles with annotations and comments written in his hand,” remembered Dr. Macechko. “None of us would be here without him and his steadfast leadership and vision. He was a lion of medicine and medical education, and he was one of the cornerstones of our program. He is beloved by many, and his legacy lives on in each of us whom he mentored. My heart is heavy, but I know that his spirit continues on in us and in this program.”

“He gave the best advice and that was to learn the business side of medicine,” said Derrick Gray, M.D., Family Medicine Residency Class of 2010 and the residency program’s associate program director. “He gave me recommendations on what to do on my second year rotations. Today, I share that knowledge with our past, present and future residents.”

“He was so good to me during my years in Fayetteville,” remembered Mimo Lemdja, M.D., program director for the UAMS South Family Medicine Residency in Magnolia and a 2011 UAMS graduate. “I used to go sit in his office when I was overwhelmed by residency duties, and we would sit and talk about anything and everything. He always wanted to know how I grew up and was always fascinated by my stories. He was so proud of me when I told him that I adopted my nieces and nephew.”

“We will all miss Dr. Parker dearly,” said Rex Porte, M.D., Family Medicine Residency Class of 2016. “He was a great man and educator. He helped mold a lot of young doctors. I really enjoyed his old-school knowledge.”

Dr. Parker was known to drop in unexpectedly to check on those physicians he had mentored during residency as well.

“About six months after Ricky (her husband, Richard Chastain, M.D.) and I moved to Malvern after residency, I got a call from my front desk saying ‘there’s an old man here to see you,’” remembered 2016 UAMS graduate Laura Lester Chastain, M.D. “They said, ‘he sent his card’ and handed me a business card. I went up to the front to find Dr. Parker standing in our lobby with a big smile. I gave him a big hug, and he said he was in town visiting family and he just wanted to check in on us and make sure we were doing okay. It made our whole week. I still have that card hanging in my office. He was such a great man, doctor and teacher. He always used to say, ‘you can heal most anything with a tincture of time and an elixir of patience.’”

Dr. Parker was never one to be satisfied with the knowledge he already had. He would often ask the UAMS Northwest Regional librarian to help him with research on topics he planned to present to the residents or on topics that merely interested him. He also continued to teach as part of the residents’ yearly geriatrics rotation, speaking on topics including end-of-life care, health maintenance in the geriatric patient and geriatric assistive devices. He even sometimes taught residents and medical students when he was the patient.

“Dr. Parker was always teaching, even when he was being admitted to the hospital,” according to Dr. Macechko. “He was known to use himself and his own medical conditions to teach the residents who were going through the process of completing a history and physical. He would quiz and question throughout his own exam, and every resident that had an interaction with him benefited from his wisdom and experience.”

Kent Wright, M.D., a 2020 UAMS graduate of the Family Medicine Residency, agrees.

“Dr. Parker could not resist a teaching moment,” according to Dr. Wright. “I remember an episode when he fell ill and needed to be admitted into the hospital. During the admission, I had two medical students shadowing me, and he insisted that they listen to his heart murmur and discuss his sodium level. Both students were scrambling for answers to difficult blood chemistry and Cardiology questions.”

“His questions were above their education level, but their stumbling bought me time to find the answers,” Dr. Wright remembered. “The emergency room physician also commented that Dr. Parker was the perfect patient because he gave a detailed history, diagnosis, treatment plan, and specialist to consult.”

Dr. Parker believed in UAMS and its mission, and he and his wife have been funding student programs in Northwest Arkansas for more than 40 years, according to Dina Wood, JD, Senior Director of Development for the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus.

“Student scholarships were always highest priority,” Wood said. “UAMS Northwest students in medicine, radiologic imaging, pharmacy and physical therapy have and continue to benefit from their generosity. The Parkers have provided future endowed support for all of these academic programs as well as excellence in teaching for the Family Medicine Residency Program in Northwest Arkansas.”

“He was such a joy,” said Angel Holland, P.T, D.P.T., Ed.D., director of clinical education and assistant program director in the UAMS Department of Physical Therapy in Northwest Arkansas. “I always looked forward to his surprise visits to our department. His smile truly lit up the room.”

“He always had a twinkle in his eye,” according to John Jefferson, P.T., Ph.D., chair of the UAMS Department of Physical Therapy in Northwest Arkansas. “He had great ‘common sense,’ very practical ideas on patient interventions, and he was a good friend to PT.”

Scott Warmack, Pharm.D., associate dean for the College of Pharmacy in Northwest Arkansas, noted that Dr. Parker and his wife provided yearly scholarships for pharmacy students in the area. Dr. Parker and his wife also funded a scholarship through the UAMS Northwest College of Medicine to encourage students to go into primary care specialties. Erica Jasso, M.D., a PGY1 Internal Medicine resident at the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus, was the first recipient of that award in 2020.

“He was a true pioneer for us and I was honored to have known him,” said Leigh Wade, LCSW, member of the Family Medicine Behavioral Health faculty.

Dr. Parker was also an ardent supporter of women’s athletics at the University of Arkansas and an avid baseball fan who held season tickets to see the Arkansas Razorbacks play at Baum-Walker Stadium. He could often be found musing to the Family Medicine Residency coordinators, Janice Huddleston and Tracy Rogers, about how good or bad the team would be each year, what they did wrong during the last game, and what their chances were at playing in and winning the College World Series.

“I took my family to an Arkansas-LSU Sunday evening baseball game and sat behind the catcher,” said Dr. Gray, who received his undergraduate degree from the Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “My goal was to hide myself amongst the Razorback fans, but then I hear a loud shout from the stands, ‘Get him out of here.’ In my head, I thought, ‘who will I have to beat up to get them from shouting at my family?’ And then I look behind me, and there was Dr. Parker standing a few rows back laughing with that Parker smile. That is my fondest memory.”

Dr. Parker was also known for his contributions to the residency program cookbook, which included homemade vanilla and lemon ice cream.

“My memories of Lee could fill the pages of a book,” said Dr. McGhee. “But my favorite memory is the taste of his homemade ice cream that he brought to our potluck lunches.”

Dr. Parker’s legacy will be the number of physicians he taught and the number of lives he impacted. His teachings and wisdom live on and will be passed down by the 288 graduates of the UAMS Northwest Family Medicine Residency and those they teach now and in the future.

“We’ll all use the knowledge he gave us for the rest of our careers,” said Carl Ross, M.D., Family Medicine Residency Class of 2016. “Dr. Parker will be missed. His legacy will live on forever.”

Click here for photographs of Dr. Parker, as well as a document telling the history of the Family Medicine Residency/AHEC in Fayetteville that he created on the 40th anniversary of the program’s inception.

Dr. Lee Parker, M.D.