KU Press Release: University community remembers longtime languages professor Stephen Parker

The University of Kansas is mourning the death of Professor Emeritus Stephen J. Parker, who died March 14.

“I join the University of Kansas community in mourning the death of Professor Stephen Parker, renowned for his research in Slavic languages and literature and his work to expand KU’s reputation in the field,” said Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. “On behalf of the KU community, I extend my condolences to Professor Parker’s family, friends, colleagues and former students.”

Parker was the third chair of the Department of Slavic Languages & Literatures and served for 13 years, stepping down in 2000. He also was the donor of the Parker Slavic Library, located in Wescoe Hall, which houses a comprehensive collection of Russian literature.

“Stephen was always cheerful and gracious and was respected and beloved by colleagues and students alike,” said Professor Stephen Dickey, department chair. “For me, he was almost synonymous with the department since my days as a student, and one of my earliest memories is of the charismatic professor with a pipe at social functions.”

Marc Greenberg, director of the KU School of Languages, Literatures & Cultures and former chair of the Slavic department, echoed gratitude for Parker’s contributions to the department and reflected on their long-term friendship.

“Steve was so generous to the Slavic department, its faculty and students in donating his mother’s (Professor Fan Parker) and his comprehensive collection of Russian literary works, as well as funds to build the Parker Slavic Library,” Greenberg said. “I will always be grateful to him for hiring me at KU and thus opening up the opportunity for me to work in Slavic scholarship and for his both collegial and caring relationship to me as a junior faculty member. I was honored to have enjoyed Steve’s collegiality and friendship for some 25 years.” Professor Emerita Maria Carlson said that she “will always remember Steve as a role model for good leadership and will miss his wise advice, his ready smile and his dry wit. He was the best of colleagues.”

Parker is survived by his spouse, Professor Emerita Marie-Luce Parker, a scholar of French and former chair of the Department of Modern Languages at Washburn University.

Parker earned his doctorate in Russian literature from Cornell University under adviser George Gibian with a dissertation on “Vladimir Nabokov-Sirin as Teacher: The Russian Novels.” After a brief appointment at the University of Oklahoma, he was appointed assistant professor in the Department of Slavic Languages & Literatures at KU in 1967. He served as chair of the Slavic department from 1987 to 2000, retiring in 2011.

His book “Understanding Vladimir Nabokov” was reprinted and often used as a course text. He co-authored “Russia on Canvas: Ilya Repin” with his mother, Fan Parker. He published numerous scholarly articles and essays.

A celebration of his life for family and friends will take place at a later date.