2015 Citizen Lawyers: Sharon Parker
By Paula M. Shearon
MARION – If anyone knows the health and wellness issues facing rural communities in North Carolina, it is attorney Sharon Parker. She has spent years working with community organizations to promote a higher quality of life in McDowell County. In honor of her exemplary public service, the North Carolina Bar Association has recognized her with its Citizen Lawyer Award.
After graduating with honors from the University of North Carolina School of Law in 1987, Parker practiced in both Winston-Salem and Marion as a medical malpractice defense attorney and in general health care law. After her daughter was born with medical issues requiring 24/7 supplemental feeding and a gastric tube, Sharon transitioned to a practice in estate planning and administration, general health care law, corporate and nonprofit law.
Parker has always appreciated the importance of public service. She co-chaired the North Carolina Bar Association Commission on the Status of Women in the Legal Profession in North Carolina from 1990 to 1993, served on the Board of Governors for the North Carolina Bar Association from 1992 to 1995, and served in other capacities with the bar association. In addition, Parker has served on the board of directors of Lawyers Mutual Liability Insurance Company of North Carolina since 1999.
It was the people of McDowell County, however, that showed Parker how rewarding public service can be. “The reward is the connection with your community and your neighbors,” Parker says of serving a smaller, rural community. “Here, people get to know you and you get to know them. They see you at the grocery store, at church – they see you as a person and not just the traditional notion of a Lawyer as Litigator. They see you as a counselor and problem solver, too. … Everyone is so welcoming to have you volunteer.”
Her interests in supporting volunteer organizations coalesced when she began serving as a board member, and then chairperson, of the McDowell Endowment, an affiliate of the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina. When she chaired the endowment, Parker started working to bring additional resources to area non-profits and service organizations. Through the endowment, she became involved with both the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust’s Healthy Places Initiative and the McDowell County Health Coalition. It is with work that Parker has found her true passion: connecting people and groups that want to collaborate and linking them with resources to do their work.
The McDowell County Health Coalition is what Parker calls a “true cross-sector collaboration: uniting the cities, the county, the school system, the community colleges, the YMCA, churches, DSS, the Health Department, the two hospital systems and many nonprofits to form and initiate ways to build the health and quality of living in their community.
The coalition is working in all aspects of local citizens’ lives –fighting child obesity and diabetes, piloting program to ensure that students graduate and are ready for jobs, promoting farmers markets and healthy eating and active lifestyles, promoting greenway and trails, building playgrounds and tackling substance abuse and mental health.
In a rural county where both the health and employment rates are lower than the state average, both the coalition and Parker know that the economic reality of the citizens is a driving factor with health, and that by working on factors that influence the social determinates of health, such as job opportunities and employee readiness, not only can they attract more business to the area, but they can create healthier neighbors and a healthier community.
Parker “is a visionary and sees the possibilities and connections in almost any situation to leverage health and improvement in the quality of life,” writes Abena Asante of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, an organization that works with the endowment and invests long term in the area. “She does not only think out of the box, she moves the box by forming strategic partnerships to improve health and well-being in McDowell County.”
Parker’s work in the community is rewarding, not only professionally, but personally. “I feel a real sense of community and connection. I hope to be a good role model for my daughter and to leave a legacy for her by being involved in our work to make McDowell County a Healthy Place.”
The Citizen Lawyer Committee of the NCBA Young Lawyers Division, in conjunction with the NCBA Citizen Lawyer Committee, provides expanded coverage of the 2015 Citizen Lawyer Awards in recognition of their volunteer service and leadership in their communities and beyond.
Paula M. Shearon is an attorney with Battle, Winslow, Scott & Wiley, P.A. in Rocky Mount.