Ernest Ray Parker spent his career creating and maintaining computer programs that would revolutionize the computer industry, but he refuses to carry a cell phone.
Parker spent nearly 10 years in the United States Air Force and worked 42 years for Hanes and Sara Lee, and so he spent a bulk of his life on call 24/7. Today he would rather not be reached unless he wants to.
Parker was born in Boonville on Dec. 9, 1942. He attended Fall Creek Elementary and Boonville High School. During his formative years he spent much of his time working on his family farm and helping his father build houses. Parker, his father, his uncles and cousins are responsible for many homes that still stand on the North Carolina coast, and in Surry, Yadkin and Forsyth Counties.
“I started building houses when I was just eight years old because child labor laws weren’t in effect back then,” Parker said. “I would work four to five days a week building houses and I would prime tobacco one to two days a week in the summertime.”
After graduating Boonville High School Parker went on to join the U.S. Air Force in December of 1961. He was selected for computer work based on his aptitude test and attended computer school at Shepherd Air Force Base in Texas.
“I also attended the USDA Graduate School and IBM Education Center School in Washington, D.C. to study computer science while I was stationed there,” Parker said. “My concentration was on computer operating systems and languages, Autocoder, Assembler, Fortran and the IBM 1401, 7074 and 360 computers.”
Parker was able to attend countless universities and colleges through his military service.
“I was really impressed with the emphasis on education in the Air Force,” Parker said. “If you wanted to get an education there was always an opportunity to go to school. Basically every base I was assigned to I was in some kind of school, sometimes multiple schools.”
Parker said that he also stood in President Kennedy’s honor guard in 1962, was in the middle of the Cuban missile crisis and was named Airman of the Quarter while at Homestead Air Force Base in 1962.
“In 1965 I moved to Alexandria, Va. to work in a computer center at Air Force Technical Applications Center,” Parker said. “I ran the location fixes and yield strength computer work for the first Chinese H-bomb test in June of 1967 and for the first French A-bomb test off of Tahiti in 1966.”
In 1967 Parker retired from the military and went on to his professional career with the Hanes Corporation and the Sara Lee Corporation where he would spend 42 years working in the computer business working in various areas involving operations, programming, systems analysis and design and systems management.
“I spent a lot of time working on human resource systems,” Parker said. “I worked from payroll clerks on the plant floor to CFO’s at the top of the company.”
Parker said that his time with the Sara Lee Corporation allowed him several opportunities to travel. He was able to visit places from California to New York.
“I worked off shore for the Sara Lee Apparel Companies,” Parker said. “One year I spent 26 weeks in Puerto Rico working at six plant locations and at the distribution center. I worked in Puerto Rico for 25 years off and on and I also worked in Honduras. One year I was on the road out of the home corporate office for 42 out of 52 weeks.”
During his time at Hanes and Sara Lee, Parker was featured in ten different magazine articles for his groundbreaking work through the companies.
Parker said that while he has spent a bulk of his career working in computers he sees the problems that it poses for society today.
“You have so much information that people don’t appreciate what they’ve got,” Parker said. “A lot of people get caught up in the trivial and miss the big picture of what’s really going on and it’s easy to do. There are too many distractions.”
Parker said another important aspect of his life was his time spent volunteering.
“I volunteer for the United Fund in Yadkin County on the agency review board and was a steering committee member for the 1989 Forsyth County, Winston-Salem United Way Campaign,” Parker said.
Parker said that he makes sure to donate blood to the Red Cross every two months and has done so since he was 19 years old.
Parker has also donated a lot of his time to Forsyth County Habitat for Humanity. He received the Sara Lee House Habitat for Humanity Master Builder Award in 1998.
Parker event tried his hand at entrepreneurship in the 1980s and early 1990s when he operated Parker Gun Shop. He would build custom hunting rifles for Yadkin County residents. Parker said that he was told that many of his guns were superior to guns ten times their price.
“My last two rifles were built in 2011 for repeat customers even though I formally closed up my gun shop in 1994,” Parker said.
Parker decided to retire in August 2005. He lives with his wife in home that he and his father build in 1966. To keep himself busy he does landscape gardening and works on building projects for his family, friends and his church and he also enjoys researching his genealogy.
Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.