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Friday May 20th

Economics professor Bill Parke's death reminds department to leave no student behind

Parke on the Olympic peninsula near his hometown of Port Angeles, Washington. Contributed by Natasha Gilliam.
Buy Photos Parke on the Olympic peninsula near his hometown of Port Angeles, Washington. Contributed by Natasha Gilliam.

William Parke, better known as Bill to friends and family, was more than just your typical economics professor. 

He was an outdoor enthusiast with a love for history who was a friend and role model for everyone he encountered. He was a quiet, laid-back professor with a dry sense of humor who would gladly discuss politics, academia, scandals and business if you gave him the time. 

Parke, a UNC College of Arts & Sciences associate economics professor, died on Dec. 27 in his home. He was 67. Parke is survived by his wife, Donna, and sons Jonathan and Matthew. 

Parke was born and raised in Port Angeles, Washington, where his love for hiking and exploring the Olympic National Park was fostered. 

He began his academic career at the University of Washington in Seattle where he earned a major in mathematics before earning his Ph.D. in economics from Yale University in New Haven.  

“He was not like your typical Ivy-League feeder,” Rita Balaban, a teaching professor in the economics department, said. “He grew up in a blue-collar family and not only went to Yale but (had some of) his early works really well published and circulated. He was a really bright guy. “

After spending some time teaching at the University of California in Santa Barbara and the University of Rochester in New York, the economics professor made his way to UNC where he would dedicate some 30 years to the students and community members of Chapel Hill.

“He came to UNC in the early '70s, so he had a lot of great institutional knowledge,” Balaban said. “When I got here, he had a lot of great information on how to teach large lectures.”

At UNC, Parke was an associate professor and first worked as director of Graduate Studies in the economics department. He later took on the role of director of Undergraduate Studies. 

“That is a really tough job,” Boone Turchi, an associate professor in the economics department, said. “The last I looked, we were about the third largest department in Arts & Sciences and we had a faculty that wasn’t nearly large enough to accommodate all the students. His responsibility was setting up the schedule every semester and then trying to make sure that every student got a place in the semester.”

Parke’s specialty for teaching and research involved econometrics, monetary economics and financial markets. He taught mostly upper-level courses and campaigned for a term paper requirement. 

“He would work carefully with the students,” Stephen Lich, a teaching associate professor and economic adviser in the economics department, said. “One thing that stood out was that he required students to come to office hours on a semi-regular basis to talk about their research papers. No one got left behind. That really goes beyond what anyone in this department and what most professors in the University do.” 

Lich recalled Parke’s emphasis on the importance of helping struggling students. 

“When one of his students was having academic trouble, Bill would tell a long story about salmon during spawning season,” Lich said. “The point was that some students are like those salmon, determined but struggling to get up the academic river to graduation. Bill constantly reminded me was that we educators have a duty to help these struggling salmon, or else they'll get eaten by grizzly bears.”

Outside of campus, Parke spent a lot of time visiting Colonial Williamsburg with his wife, Donna to learn about the history and people of the area. During the summer, he would return to his hometown of Port Angeles and enjoy the solitude of the Northwest. 

“In terms of his legacy, I just think about the thousands of his students he probably taught and impacted,” Balaban said. “I think about all the students he’s touched over the years and even us faculty. He was a real advocate for the students and when we were debating about what we thought was the best direction for the department to go, Bill had a good perspective because he was the director of Undergraduate Studies, and he was working with the students. He knew our students’ strengths and weaknesses. He understood the institution and how things worked. He was really fighting for the students and what was best for them.”

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