Friends and family members of Carl Parker filled Evanston’s Second Baptist Church on July 15 to remember and celebrate his life. A lifelong Evanstonian, Carl was widely known for having a smile that welcomed even strangers into his heart.
“He was always the same,” the Rev. Michael Nabors, the church’s senior pastor, said in his eulogy. “I believe this is true for all of us. When we saw him from a distance, if you made eye contact with Carl, there would be a smile. … It was in the very nature of Carl to set at ease and put a smile on the face of others.”
Nabors noted that “tremendous memories” and childhood photos were posted on social media when news of Carl’s death became public. He quoted some of the posts during the service.
“He made a lasting impression on me from the day I first met him,” wrote the younger brother of one of Carl’s friends. “This is just heartbreaking,” wrote a classmate. “That smile. I can remember how he greeted me every time I saw him,” wrote another. “We will miss Carl Parker and that contagious laughter and signature smile,” wrote still another.
“The array of responses from so many different Evanston residents,” Nabors said, “is a testimony to the character of Carl Parker.”
Carl enjoyed success early in life, excelling in the classroom and on the playing field. He was a three-sport athlete at Evanston Township High School (Class of ‘83), where he played baseball, football and hockey before continuing his education at Eastern Illinois University. He returned to the community he loved, taking over the helm of Parker and Sons Carpet Cleaning Services, and catapulting the family-owned business to new heights.
In 2019, Carl received the Milestone Award from the Black Business Consortium of Evanston North Shore – an award given to entrepreneurs that have been in business more than 20 years. Carl was also recently elected to serve on the ETHS Foundation board of directors.
Carl was born Aug. 3, 1964, to Altha Mae and Calvin Parker Jr. He attended Evanston public schools, working in the summer months alongside his father, doing unglamorous chores in the family business while learning the day-to-day operations.
As a middle school student at Skiles in the 1970s, Carl met then-Principal Oliver Ruff and developed a positive relationship with Ruff that lasted through the decades.
“He was the kind of kid who was always committed to whatever he did. He was very athletic and socially inclined. … Carl was a kind and generous young man. He had a lot of people who cared for him, as he cared for them. He really connected with people,” Ruff told the RoundTable.
When Carl took over the Parker family carpet-cleaning business, “he did innovative things and expanded services,” said Ruff. The devastating news of Carl’s death from pancreatic cancer hit Ruff hard. “Every time one of my students passes away, I feel like part of me is taken away,” Ruff said.
Carl’s ETHS classmate Liz Krupkin told the RoundTable, “Carl was an amazing human. He was a friend to everyone, a ray of sunshine, a cheerleader for many and a lover of life. His smile lit up not only his face, but those he was with. He will be greatly missed.”
Even in the late stages of his illness, Carl retained his tremendous passion for life, Pastor Nabors told those who gathered to mourn the loss of a man who “loved everything about life and had great respect for it. … Every time I talked with Carl, he never talked about death. He always talked about life. He never talked about the end. He talked about beginnings.”
Nabors concluded his eulogy with these words:
“Surrounded by love, in a moment’s time – he left mortal and put on immortality. The angel took him wherever we go. Some call it the promised land, some call it beloved community, some call it the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven.
“Oh but when Carl got there, what a moment. See, on the way, Carl was being Carl, and he whispered into the angel’s ear, ‘I have one request. Do you think God will let me do it? I have just one favor. Do you think God will let it happen?’ The angel listened to the request and let out a low rumble of laughter. That is what Carl was always able to do, you know.
“Then the angel used whatever tele-optic wave of communication used to reach God and delivered the message. Oh, I thank God for being a preacher with sanctified imagination. And because Carl was filled with such laughter, love and passion for life – his debut in heaven was a powerful one. Listen to him utter these words. The same words he shared whenever he walked into his own home here in Evanston:
“’The Champ is here. The Champ is here.’ Words quoted from Muhammed Ali.”
Carl is survived by his wife, Ella Woodford-Parker; four children, Miranda Parker, Sydney Parker, Chandler Bramwell and Ellington Bramwell; a sister, Debra Parker-Boyd; a brother, Derrick Parker; two nephews, Charles Connor and Pierre Boyd; a niece, Ashley Parker; and a host of aunts, uncles, other relatives and friends.