Gabriel Prize founder George Parker, Jr.
George Parker, Jr. was born on the Fourth of July, 1920–an appropriate beginning for the life of a patriot. Parker was a frequent traveler throughout his life (particularly to France) but he returned home each time with pleasure all the same. He was proud of the fact that America, regardless of its problems, is still a country in which one’s dreams can come true.
Parker was born to George and Margarite Parker in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was the second of five sons, all of whom eventually joined their father in various facets of the oil and gas business. George Parker, Sr.’s interests were quite varied and covered many of the oil-producing states. In 1940, he and his partner merged their oil business with the Texaco Corporation. After the merger, George Parker, Sr. remained in the oil business and moved operations to San Antonio.
George Parker, Jr. began his education in Tulsa at a Catholic boys’ school named Cascia Hall. He then attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He graduated from Princeton University and enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving on sub-chasers for most of World War II. He considered his navy experience to be one of the greatest opportunities of his life because it allowed him to learn about people from different backgrounds. The diplomatic skills he developed served him throughout his business career.After the war, Parker attended the University of Michigan Law School. Upon graduation, he returned to Texas to practice law in a Dallas firm that specialized in oil and gas operations. Several years later, after developing expertise in the legal side of the business, he returned to San Antonio to help his father with the oil business. Soon, he and his brothers developed successful oil and gas ventures of their own in the U.S. and Canada. In 1960, Parker was invited to join the Texaco Board of Directors. He spent 32 years on the board and brought to it his extensive knowledge of the oil business as well as extraordinary business and diplomatic skills.
Parker remained a student throughout his life. He spent much of his leisure time reading and studying a variety of subjects. Through his education, he learned several languages and spoke fluent French and Spanish and some Russian. His language skills allowed him to travel extensively throughout Europe and to easily develop a number of close friendships with people of different countries, which provided him with greater knowledge and understanding of the people who lived there. He maintained subscriptions to French language magazines and other European publications, believing that relying solely on the U.S. media limited one’s understanding of the world.
Those who knew Parker for more than a day or two were aware of his great love of France. His passion for classical design was fueled by his many trips to France, beginning in his 20s. He often spoke of his initial visit to Versailles and the impression it made on him. His fondness for classical design, reflected in the architecture of the chateau, the gardens, and especially the Grand Trianon and Gabriel’s Petit Trianon palaces, was most evident in the building of his own houses in San Antonio and Dallas. His San Antonio house featured a library that was a replica of the Louis XVI library at Versailles. The Dallas house was constructed along classical lines showing the influence of the Petit Trianon. First impressions of the houses were of European splendor, yet they also reflected the warm and inviting nature of Parker’s personality.
Out of Parker’s love of classical architecture grew the Western European Architecture Foundation. He reasoned that if American architects were exposed to the classical tradition, and given the freedom to observe, draw, and contemplate, then American architecture could be affected in a profound way over a period of time. The goal of the Foundation is not to restore the practice of classical architecture as seen in the work of Gabriel. As much as this would have delighted Parker, his was a greater purpose: to cultivate the desire in others to learn and to be open to classical ideas in new ways.
Parker spent a good portion of his life and his resources offering people the opportunity to change their lives in such a way. He was an eternal optimist about the capacity of people to learn and grow. Providing the means for people to experience new things and to grow (whether it be in business, languages, athletics, sailing, or architecture) gave Parker a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
This, in essence, is the purpose of the Gabriel Prize: Find those willing to take three months of their life to live in France, work hard, and push themselves to grow through exposure to the best of the past. Offer that person, through critical analysis of their work and the challenge to use old ideas in new ways, the gift of finding in themselves the ability to apply the lessons of the classical tradition in their daily work and life in America. The Gabriel Prize is a fitting tribute to George Parker, Jr.’s beliefs and approach to life.