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1953: W. Davis Parker Joins Firm

By February 1925, W. Davis Parker—second founder of the Williams Parker law firm—was in Sarasota from his native Georgia, a young child, just five years old, the middle boy of three sons. His father, Jere Parker and mother Kathleen (nee Davis), had brought the young family with them to the boomtown on the bay where Jere would work for the thriving newspaper industry as a typesetter until the dawn of World War II, when reduced fortunes would see him move his family to Atlanta. While in Sarasota in those early years, Jere Parker regularly made the papers for his appearances around town as an amateur actor and singer. A noted tenor, he always received rave reviews even if it was simply singing for his First Presbyterian Church, which was attended by the Williams family and where the two families would mingle. Jere also played amateur football, and a 1925 injury made the local news.

The Parker family was of humble means, but were educated and had a joie de vivre that they shared with their children. The Parker boys attended Southside Elementary with the Williams kids; Davis Parker and his eventual bride Charlotte Williams had only one year between them and would date in high school. They were all active, social children, regularly in the society and sports pages. Then in 1934, tragedy struck when Davis Parker’s older brother, Jere Jr., died of leukemia—then called Hodgkin’s disease—at age 18.

“Young Parker, known as a student of literature, had made many friends during the time he has made his home in Sarasota. His father is mechanical superintendent of the Sarasota Herald,” the June 11, 1934 Sarasota Herald read. His friends would later plant a memorial tree at his Manasota Cemetery grave.   

With his older brother’s death and his father’s new employment misfortunes, the Depression years were hard on the Parker and his family, lessons Davis Parker would keep with him all his life. After graduating from Sarasota High School, he worked a year in Sarasota at Slee’s Food Shop (today’s Morton Gourmet Market) to save money, then attended the University of Florida, earning a degree in accounting, and soon found himself fighting the Japanese as an Army Air Corps B-24 Liberator waist gunner and radio operator, flying dozens of combat missions in the bloodiest years of the war, island hopping from Guadalcanal all the way to the Philippines. Technical Sergeant (today’s Sergeant First Class) Davis Parker recorded his missions and his war experiences in a journal that his son Joe Parker, a retired Downey & Cleveland PA, Marietta, GA, estate planning and insurance defense attorney, says his father read to him at night when he was a child.

“Some say my father suffered from PTSD,” said Joe Parker in 2020, four years after his own retirement, “but to my mind, he didn’t show signs of it. He talked about his war experiences all the time.”

Davis Parker’s war journal, reprinted by S. Sidney Ulmer—who served with Parker in the war—as 2000’s ‘Waist Gunner: The Diary of William Davis Parker in World War II,’ recounts all of those missions, many of which saw Parker firing his machine gun as Japanese Zero fighters attacked the Liberator. Surviving a crash landing, Parker received a Purple Heart , three air medals, and a Presidential merit citation.

For at least one year, 1955, Wiliams Parker was home to three combat veteran attorneys: Arthur Bell who had fought the Germans in Belgium, Davis Parker who had fought the Japanese all across the South Pacific, and William T. Harrison, who had fought the Chinese and North Koreans in Korea. George Dietz had also served in Korea but had not seen combat.

Soon after returning from the war, Davis Parker married Charlotte Williams in a subdued ceremony for the period at her father’s home.

After briefly considering joining a Peace Corps-like service that was working to rebuild post-war Europe, Parker put his CPA skills to work as a Treasury Agent in the Intelligence Unit of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, chasing tax evaders. Then he attended the Wharton School of Business, earning a masters degree in 1947, joined the faculty of the University of Florida later that year where he taught accounting until 1953. On each of these moves, Charlotte and the children were with him.

“He was a self-made man,” says his son Joe Parker. “He loved to read and traveled all his life and loved learning languages. He was always learning new things and having new hobbies. When we were children, he taught us about so many different subjects, from constellations that he had used while flying in the Pacific, to sports, to plants. He was a gardener and a wine connoisseur. He was really a special person.”

While teaching at the University of Florida, Parker enrolled at the law school, graduating in 1953 with an LL. B. degree and passing the bar that same year. He soon joined his father-in-law’s law firm.

Davis Parker would practice law with Williams Parker until his sudden death of a heart attack on Tuesday, December 22, 1982. Hi newspaper obituary read, “Active on many community organizations, he was a member of the board of trustees of Mote Marine Laboratory, Mote Marine Foundation, chairman of the board of the Selby Botanical Gardens, and director emeritus and former chairman of the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Foundation. He was a director of Ellis bank & Trust Co….active in Scouting, Little League and other youth programs…He was a member of the Field Club, the University Club and numerous professional societies. He was the former president of the Sarasota County Bar Association. Associates said he had worked late at his office the night he was stricken.”

William T. Harrison said of Parker in the same obituary, “He kept a low profile because that was the kind of man he was. He did good things and gave of himself, but never wanted to be applauded…[he was a loyal friend, dedicated scholar, and untiring servant of his community.]”

His son Joe Parker says of him, “He was a war hero, I certainly considered him one. But in his mind, he was only doing his duty.”  

Joining his father-in-law in the practice of law in 1953, Davis Parker became the loyal second founding partner of the Williams Parker law firm.  

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