Sandy Parker, the longtime head of the former Rochester Business Alliance and one of the most influential forces in the region, died Saturday. She was 75.
Friends and former business associates confirmed her death and said it was sudden.
Parker was a key player in forming what today is known as the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce.
It was Parker, who as head of the nonprofit business organization, Industrial Management Council, orchestrated a merger between her group and what was then the Greater Rochester Metro Chamber of Commerce in 2002. The two groups combined the following year to form the Rochester Business Alliance, which was later rebranded as the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce.
The bringing together of the two groups was no small feat. Doing so required the two groups to set aside bitter differences that in 1994 resulted in the head of the Greater Rochester Metro Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Mooney, being removed from the Industrial Management Council board.
Melding the chamber, which promotes local businesses, and the council, which provided human resources services and training to area businesses, effectively made the Rochester Business Alliance a stronger advocate for the area’s business community and an influential force in a wide range of community matters, including education policies, publicly-financed construction projects, and skyrocketing health care costs.
Mooney headed the newly formed Rochester Business Alliance through 2004, and Parker took over from there before ceding her title as president to former mayor and lieutenant governor Robert Duffy in 2015.
During her time at the helm of the organization, Parker was known as a facilitator and an astute diplomat who was skilled at coaching, cueing, and coddling a vast collection of Rochester businesses, from large and small manufacturers to health care companies, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, and retailers.
In 2006, barely more than a year into her term as president of the Rochester Business Alliance, she brokered another merger that saw the alliance absorb the nonprofit business collective, Rump Group, which was headed by local developer and entrepreneur, John “Dutch” Summers, who she would later marry.
On Sunday, Jennifer Leonard, president and CEO of Rochester Area Community Foundation also referred to Parker’s ability “to pull together different sectors of our community, on behalf of the community.”
Leonard said that Parker built a coalition that went every year to Albany with a set of unified requests. In terms of Parker’s leadership style, Leonard said that, “She was willing to be out front when she needed to be and she was happy to be behind the scenes making things happen.”
When Parker retired from the Rochester Business Alliance, she told WXXI News in a December 2014 interview that while she had not realized she would be in her role at the RBA as long as she was, she would still miss the work.
“This job has been very fulfilling to me, it’s been wonderful from the standpoint that every day, it’s been something different. I’ve gotten to meet many different, just really exciting and interesting people at all levels across the state, I’m going to miss that,” Parker said.
Later in her tenure at the Rochester Business Alliance, Parker would co-found Unshackle Upstate, a coalition of business groups that has since been renamed Upstate United and advocates for lower taxes and fewer regulations in New York to spur economic growth.
On Sunday, Duffy released a statement calling Parker, “an unsung hero in the Greater Rochester community for decades, contributing her time, resources, and expertise to countless philanthropic and economic development initiatives. In partnership with her husband, Dutch Summers, Sandy’s contributions to, and passion for, educational endeavors were unmatched.”
Duffy said that, “Without exaggeration, thousands of young minds were shaped and enhanced due to the generosity of Sandy, who saw these kids through from grammar school to their college graduations. Sandy quietly seeded goodness throughout the Rochester community for decades, sitting on dozens of boards and councils, never seeking attention or recognition.
“Sandy Parker had a profound impact on me personally and professionally, often offering invaluable advice and guidance throughout each stage of my career. Sandy’s story will be told in the coming day
s, weeks, months, and years by the many, many people whose lives were touched and made better by her,” Duffy said.
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren issued this statement on Sunday:
“Sandy Parker was a warrior and champion for employers in Greater Rochester, helping lead the region through challenging times. She was ever vigilant in ensuring that Rochester’s business community was heard by local leaders and that they responded to the needs of our local economy.
“I will remember her from my days working for former Assemblyman David Gantt with whom she had a strong relationship. Her passing is a sad day for our city, but we will remain grateful to her for making our community a great place to live and work. My sincere condolences go out to her spouse, John “Dutch” Summers, and all of her family and loved ones,” Warren said.
Jaime Saunders, President & CEO at the United Way of Greater Rochester said that Parker was a mentor for her and many others. “Sandy, really for decades, was one of very few women in the room and she kept opening doors for others along her path. Most recently she has the Parker Scholars at Mercy High Schools, she’s been passionate in making opportunities available to anyone and everyone. She believed in opportunities and possibilities,” Saunders said.
David Andreatta is Editor at CITY, a media partner of WXXI. He can be reached at [email protected].
Randy Gorbman is News Director at WXXI, He can be reached at [email protected]