Men all over the country were searching for the perfect Valentine’s Day gift on a midweek day in February, but Kenneth J. Parker was on a different mission. While other men were trying to secure dinner reservations at the hottest new spots or ordering expensive dark chocolates and flowers, he was planning the meal he would prepare at home with his wife.
“Just being able to sit down and quietly talk and laugh, that’ll be good,” said Parker, 50, of Rockville.
Almost six months after his promotion to senior vice president of government affairs and corporate citizenship at Pepco Holdings, Inc., Parker’s hectic work week and long hours are already making time with his wife, Sheri, and their two children, Kenneth Jr., 17, and Lauren, 13, more limited. That makes family time even more special, he said.
Family has always been important to Parker. He was born the ninth of 10 children and is still close to his brothers and sisters. His mother, Ella Parker, died when he was 2 years old. His father, Willie Lee Parker, distraught over the loss of his wife, ran off to Florida, leaving Parker and his siblings in Winslow Township in Camden County, N.J., just outside Philadelphia. While in Florida, his father was shot and killed.
The death of his mother and the departure of his father “pretty much shifted our whole life circumstances,” Parker said.
“My oldest sister Patricia tried to raise us,” said Parker. But the state of New Jersey put Parker and his other siblings in foster homes where they lived for seven years.
“Once you leave your parents, the state has jurisdiction,” he said. “My older sister tried to maintain a connection with [us]. I never felt like I was alone because I always knew she would be visiting.”
Eventually, Patricia became a teacher and was able to bring her brothers and sisters to live with her, Parker said.
His strong connection to family led him to get married young. He and Sheri were married in 1990, long before he became a corporate success story.
“She didn’t marry me for how much money I made,” said Parker with a chuckle. “She married for me for the person I am and that’s the greatest thing... That’s true love. She has always been a true champion of mine and a supporter.”
Parker started his career with the company that would become Pepco Holdings at Atlantic City Electric, a New Jersey subsidiary of the utility, in the landscaping department in 1986. He cut the laws and maintained the grounds and he did it so well that he was eventually promoted to building manager. In that capacity, he worked the overnight shift dispatching crews working in the field to address customer concerns.
Besides a willingness to work hard, Parker had an affinity for helping people, something he came by because of his own background, he said.
He remembers his brothers and sisters teaching him to be kind and helpful to those who are suffering. “Don’t down the one that is down today. Help them in their sorrow,” Parker said they told him, quoting their mother. “This old world is a funny old world. You might be down tomorrow.”
Parker, years earlier, had earned his bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Delaware State University. As he began to climb higher on the corporate ladder, he ran for the Winslow Township School District, he said.
“I lost my first election,” said Parker. “Being young and naive, I thought I could just change the world. I learned you have to have support. I learned about policy and politics from other members who were 15 or 20 years older than me.”
Parker won his next election and served as a board member for seven years. He used what he learned about interpersonal relationships while on the school board to help him navigate his way through the ranks of Pepco, he said.
Other corporate positions at Pepco have included director of government affairs for New Jersey; vice president for the Atlantic region for Pepco; region president for Atlantic City; and vice president of public policy, the position he held before his promotion in September to his current post.
As senior vice president of government affairs and corporate citizenship, Parker is in charge of community development and making sure that Pepco’s name stays before governmental entities and nonprofits. He establishes and maintains ties between Pepco and federal, state, county and local officials from Washington, D.C., Maryland, Delaware and parts of New Jersey.
“I feel blessed that I have come so far,” Parker told the AFRO. “[The promotion] made me reflect on my journey—when I started with the company and my personal life as well.”