Theresa Parks, a Mission Hill legend, never locked the door to her hard-fought homestead in Mission Park.
In fact, anyone could simply knock and walk in.
One might think that to be a little dangerous for someone living in the middle of the city on busy Huntington Avenue with so much hustle and bustle and potential for bad things. However, Parks was known far and wide as probably the most generous person in Mission Hill, if not Boston.
One didn’t need to break into her home for something, but simply ask, and she would give what she could on the spot – or find someone that could help then and there.
The generosity of Parks is just one hallmark of a noteworthy life for a woman that grew up, fought for housing issues, helped others at all times and held “office hours” in Brigham Circle with friends daily. Sadly, Theresa Parks, 84, passed away on June 9 at her home in Mission Park.
Parks’ nice, Laura Adams, was very close to her aunt and said she fought for Mission Hill causes to the very end.
“Up until the very end, she still participated in community meetings and fought to the end for housing,” said Adams, who also works at Roxbury Tenants of Harvard (RTH), which Parks helped to found during an epic fight against Harvard University expansion in Mission Hill 50 years ago. “Affordable housing was a big issue for her. We were even holding meetings at her apartment towards the end so she could be part of it…She was a people person and if you needed help, housing or money for food, she would do her best to give it to you and if she couldn’t, she knew who could help. She had a wonderful and full life. She left a legacy behind to us to always help people.”
Dermot Doyne, owner of Penguin Pizza in Brigham Circle, became a very close friend of Parks through the years, and so much so that he agreed to give the eulogy at her funeral in Mission Church on June 17.
“She went beyond what was required of a human in terms of having a passion for people,” he said during an interview recently. “She was very saintly and very old school. I always saw her at the Penguin in Mission Hill and outside on the benches were destitute people. She would always help them and she was probably too generous. You had to really cross her for her to dislike you…I came to Mission Hill 20 years ago and she would introduce me as her ‘very good friend.’ If you were talking negatively about someone, perhaps, she would always say how much she loved them…
“She definitely had an angelic notion and responded with extra kindness in her willingness to help,” he continued. “Someone would ask for a dollar and shed’ give them $5. I don’t think she ever got any money back in her life, but that was something she probably never realized.”
Doyne said he has only given the eulogy at three funerals, his mother, his father and his best friend, Theresa Parks. He said she was such a warm person, but at the same time one with a very quick wit whose comments could cut to the bone. When it was time to fight, he said, she was ready to fight for her neighborhood.
Nothing of the sort was more apparent than her fight against Harvard University 50 years ago in their bid to expand in Mission Hill. In an unprecedented fight, she, her husband, Bob, other neighbors and several Harvard students stood up to the University and won – creating 900 unit of affordable housing in what is now known as Mission Park through the Roxbury Tenants of Harvard (RTH).
“Theresa was 4 feet, 10 inches tall, but you had Goliath’s big brother on your side with her,” said Doyne. “When she got behind you, she gave everything. I don’t know where Mission Hill is going to go because she was a gatekeeper for this area. She was triumphant in her David vs. Goliath attitude. She brought Harvard – one of the wealthiest institutions in the world – to their knees and made them agree to things they never would have ever agreed to without her advocacy.”
Born in Jamaica Plain, she lived in Mission Hill most of her life and graduated from Mission Church High School in 1954. The daughter of Irish immigrants, she loved all things Irish. She told the Boston Memoir Project, “We were not well-off, but thought we were the richest people in the world.” She was a founding member of Roxbury Tenants of Harvard (RTH). Eventually, Harvard and RTH collaborated on Mission Park and the creation of 900 units of affordable housing. For years, she coordinated elder services at Mission Park. She also worked at Shea’s Dry Cleaners and Mariner Healthcare at Longwood. She served on too many boards of directors, advisory boards and task forces to mention, many city-wide. Her work was recognized with citations and awards. The state certified her as a Licensed Social Work Associate. A longtime poll worker, she loved the bustle of election day.
She is survived by her sons, Robert S. Parks of Mission Hill and John Parks and wife Patricia of York, ME; a daughter, Vanessa Parks and husband James Amorello of Shrewsbury; three grandchildren, Tess Parks of Portland, ME, Kelly Breiner of Weston, FL, and Alexander Parks of the North End; two great-grandchildren; beloved sister Anna Adams of Mission Hill; four nieces, Nancy Geary of West Roxbury, Elaine Adams, Laura Adams and Maureen Adams of Mission Hill, two nephews, Frederick Adams of West Roxbury and Daniel Adams of Roslindale; and many great-nieces and-nephews, cousins & friends. She was predeceased by her husband, Robert Parks; a daughter, Karynn Parks; and her parents, John and Margaret (Culkin) Casey.