Mamie Parker, a former assistant director of fisheries and habitat conservation at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was the first African-American to head a regional office for that agency. But when she started out in the field, she says, she “did not see anyone that looked like me doing this type of work.”
When she was in ninth grade, Parker says, “I heard the song by Marvin Gaye, ‘Mercy, mercy me. Things are not like they used to be.’ He talked about the pollution in the air, and the wind that was blowing poison and radiation and all of that.” She decided she wanted to do something about it.
She met a recruiter for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who was looking for interns. “He wanted me to leave Arkansas and head off to Wisconsin,” she says. “That was quite frightening for a Southern girl like myself that had hardly been north of Little Rock.” But he told her something that made sense, and kicked off a decades-long career: “You can get paid to do what you like to do best,” she says, laughing.
On a somber note, Parker also points out that “pioneers are very lonesome people.” She has spent her career feeling a responsibility to do well. “As you know,” she told me, “to whom much is given, much is expected.”
On working to honor her mother
My mother was an avid angler, a sharecropper, had 11 children. I’m number 11. The rest of the boys and girls did not want to be outdoors, but she wanted a companion, and taught me life lessons out there. She passed away when I was fairly young, and I decided to do this in her honor.
On being the only African-American female expert in the building
I remember my first job here in the D.C. area, and the janitors in the building, they just kept coming and peeking in, and I thought “What are they looking at?” And finally I saw one in the bathroom, and she said, “I’ve been here for almost 40 years,” and she said, “No African-American woman has been in here except to clean this office.” And for her it was a proud moment.