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The Picture of Success

Friday, August 1, 2014

Charles Parish poses with former President Jimmy Carter during a photo session circa 1979.

He considered a career in banking but it took only one photo to bring his true professional goal into focus.

by Donna Parker

Charles Parish '60

It's hard to picture photographer Charles Parish being chained to a desk in a bank, but working in finance was his original intent when he graduated Trinity with a B.S. in Business Administration. Then, there was a new development.

"One day I picked up a camera to snap a few pictures while I figured out which bank to work for and Parish Photography was born," says this adventurous storyteller, civic leader, and all-around people person.

That was in 1964 following a whirlwind of activity over the previous four years involving a visit with the most popular rock and roll singer in the world (at that time), a grand tour of duty overseas and some jumping out of airplanes, as well as a stint in the cockpit flying an Army General around the country.

Charles graduated June 1, 1960 and married wife Betty Caldwell 30 days later. One month later, the couple found themselves stationed in Virginia, courtesy of the United States Army.

"I started out as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers," says Charles, "But then, the Army decided I was meant for paratrooper jump school."

"I promised Betty I wouldn't do anything crazy," laughs Charles. "She was already pregnant with our first daughter, but there I was jumping out of airplanes!"

It wasn't long, however, before fate intervened in the form of the Berlin Wall crisis and the commanding officer dispatched Charles to Europe on special assignment.

"The Russians were building fences in Berlin and everyone was afraid they'd cut off the roads into the City, but we officers knew there wouldn't be a war, because the Army didn't give us any ammo!"

You get the idea that the spirit of fun finds Charles wherever he goes and, to be fair, he comes by that rather honestly.

"In my early Army days in Killeen, my mother called me one day about meeting up with a fellow soldier and friend of mine. She said, ‘Butch, I'm driving up to Ft. Hood—introduce me to Elvis," laughs Charles.

"Elvis didn't live in the barracks with the others guys; rather, he lived in a private home in town," continues Charles. "My mom wasn't afraid of anything, so she knocked on the door of that modest one-story home and Elvis invited us in for coffee. It was a great way to spend a Sunday morning!"

There was the time, too, when country star Minnie Pearl threw a party in honor of Charles and Betty, attended by every major star in the music business. As it turns out, Sarah Cannon (Minnie's real name) was a friend of Betty's mom.

So, it was quite natural that when he got out of the service and scored the opportunity to be mentored by Tom Frost, the prominent head of Frost Bank, Charles instead embarked upon a career path better suited to his lively personality. It provided quite the entrée to world leaders and celebrities.

"Well, I worked on the yearbook staff at Trinity and I'd always liked photography," says Charles. "So that had something to do with me picking up the camera again."

"When my uncle and I established Parish Photography in the ‘60's, I started photographing ‘all of the important weddings in town."

Of course, there was the occasional ‘side job.'

"The weddings were only part of it," says Charles, who photographed President John F. Kennedy in Texas the day before he was assassinated in Dallas. It was the first picture he ever sold. He also photographed President Lyndon B. Johnson in a private meeting and some years later President George Bush, whom he found ‘very nice.'

"Then, one day, the Secretary of the Navy, John Dalton, asked me to take some pictures of President Jimmy Carter when he came through San Antonio. We were standing in a locked room waiting for the bomb sweepers to clear the area and the President and I discussed our hobbies. He was fond of making birdhouses, and I told him I built model airplanes!" That moment came to a close when a waiter in the club asked for the President's autograph on a dinner napkin.

There was literally never a dull moment for Charles in the ensuing 48 years that he ran his business, but he decided to sell two years ago. The new owner is fellow alumnus Jenna Beth Lyde '09. The two met while attending a Rotary Club event.

Charles is still a member of that group, but also acts as Mayor Pro Tem of Terrell Hills, is a member of the Texas Cavaliers, a vestryman with Christ Episcopal Church, and in his spare time founded the Alamo Heights Chamber of Commerce.

Some years back, Charles, who is a devoted family man to his two daughters and grandchildren, decided it would be a good idea to take his granddaughter Annabelle to visit all of the county seats in Texas. Of course, a connection of his–Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines–stepped in and offered the duo plane tickets to wherever they wanted to go.

"We met practically every county judge during this period," says Charles of this great and industrious adventure.

"Trinity really prepared me for public life. Back when I went, it was small and very open. I thought nothing of walking into the president's office to chat. He'd headed Duke, which is where I began college, and we talked all the time over lunch."

"The Trinity faculty was always there for us. People like Paul Walthall, Don Everett and Frances Swinney. I also worked in the library, got a salary and used it to pay tuition. I don't know—in those days, we just mainly went to class and studied in the library and that was that, but it was a comfortable place to be and encouraged interactivity with the students and teachers which really provided the foundation for networking."

Now that he is semi-retired, Charles is launching a personal campaign to recruit new donors to contribute to Trinity; however, he's using very traditional methods.

"I plan to stay off the computer," he laughs. "Instead, I will call people on the phone and then go see them personally," says Charles, who's already contacted a classmate living right down the street from him.

"What I want to do is reach out to alumni for smaller sums of money. It's time for me to give back to Trinity and help the school that afforded me the opportunity to embark upon a successful career in business and public life."

You can email Charles at Charles [at] Parish.net