Carleton R. Parish ’71 pays tribute to his wife, Sharon, and her extraordinary career in intelligence
When Sharon Parish tragically died in an automobile accident in February of 2011, Carleton Parish ’71 of Spotsylvania, Virginia, lost his beloved wife and best friend of 35 years. The CIA lost a compassionate and innovative leader who was among the first women to break the executive glass ceiling at the agency, and the country lost a devoted civil servant and vocal advocate for the American taxpayer.
Now with a $50,000 gift to endow a scholarship in her name, Parish is memorializing the role Sharon played in his life and her remarkable accomplishments as a senior intelligence officer with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).
As in life, where she was often commended for exceptional performance during her 40-year career, Sharon is being honored by the intelligence community in many ways, including the posthumous awarding of the CIA’s Distinguished Intelligence Medal, and the NGA naming its Woman of the Year Award and a new conference center in her memory, among others.
When considering his own memorial, Parish turned to Plymouth State and established the Sharon Rebecca Parish Memorial Scholarship in Business. “I chose Plymouth State because her two alma maters don’t need it like students at Plymouth do,” he said. “Sharon came from a humble background in Appalachia and went to college at night while working. I struggled financially as a student, too,” he said, recalling his college years, funded in part by the GI Bill after a four-year stint in the US Navy.
Parish credits his Plymouth State education with shaping him into the person and professional he became. “Plymouth’s caring and understanding faculty taught me life’s most valuable lessons,” he explained. “Things like perseverance, working through a problem from more than one angle, how to be diplomatic, respectful, and courteous—Plymouth made me a gentleman.” An officer, too: Parish’s law enforcement career with the US Marshals Service began shortly after graduation in 1971 and culminated with his serving as the worldwide logistics coordinator for the Service.
Now retired, Parish recently returned to campus to meet the first Sharon Parish Memorial Scholarship recipient, Jake Harris ’15, and share with him information about the scholarship’s namesake.
“Sharon was a leader in every sense. ‘Mission first. People always,’ was her credo. She was one-of-a-kind,” he reflected. The endowed fund he has created at Plymouth State assures his wife’s compelling life story will not only be remembered, but will be an inspiration to bright and ambitious business students now and for generations to come.— Laure A. Morris
To memorialize a loved one through an endowed fund at Plymouth State, contact Laure Morris, director of major gifts via e-mail or phone at (603) 535-2952.