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State auditor anchored in her rural upbringing

HARTSELLE, Ala. (BP)–As Susan Parker chopped and picked cotton on her parents’ farm in Eva, Ala., she dreamed of becoming a secretary or a teacher. She never imagined she would earn a doctorate, spend 25 years in education and have an office in the state capitol.
But those “beyond her wildest dreams” parts of her life did happen. The last of which came true following the November 1998 election when Parker, a member at First Baptist Church, Hartselle, was elected state auditor.
Sworn in, along with the governor and other officials Jan. 18, Parker intends to always remember her roots. And to help remind her, she keeps a sack used to pick cotton among her office decor.
“I try to bring to my job every day that I want to do the Golden Rule — treat others the way I want to be treated,” Parker said. “I want to love my fellow man … love my enemies as Christ taught us to.
“It really helps if I can keep my focus on that,” she said. “That way, the rough political edge is smoothed, and it is much less stressful and soothing to your soul.”
Parker — whose husband, Paul, recently retired from the state legislature –said her job of appointing county registrars, auditing the state’s financial statements and overseeing the state’s equipment is a new challenge compared to her previous years of service in education.
And yet, she only attended college because she could not find a secretarial job when she graduated from high school at 16.
“I wrote a letter to Calhoun [Community College in Decatur] and told them I was poor, I wanted to work, I needed a job and I wanted to go to school,” Parker said.
And Calhoun officials answered her plea. She was hired as a clerk in the admissions office and took classes while working. She soon achieved a promotion to secretary and then to assistant director.
Still, Parker’s college experience was not easy. She struggled financially some quarters just to pay the tuition.
“My first year Daddy had bought a cotton picker and he let me pick the cotton off the end of the rows to pay my tuition one quarter,” she recalled.
Others also helped her along the way by giving her clothes to wear, helping pay for her tuition and encouraging her.
Parker is convinced the Lord looked after her. “I remember one time I was in line to pay my tuition, and I didn’t have any money,” she said. “I didn’t know where I was going to get it. But the director of financial aid came along and said, ‘You live on a farm, don’t you?’ I said yes, and he said, ‘Well, come on, I’ve got a scholarship for you.'”
ConAgra had given some money for a scholarship for somebody who lived on a farm. And Parker’s tuition concerns were solved.
As Parker adjusts to her new job and a new city, she intends on keeping that cotton-picking sack nearby.
“I used to think if I just knew where God wanted me to serve … but now I know,” she said. “He wants me to serve every day wherever I am.”

Bates is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist newsjournal.

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  • Martine G. Bates