FAIRMONT — In her day, Amy Rose Parks dined with two U.S. presidents. She was part of negotiations in Iran with Ayatollah Khomeini to help free American hostages.
She guided national civil rights policy and testified before Congress. She helped implement change that bought about free school lunches, free textbooks, and clothing vouchers for low-income children.
Locally, she was a founding member of Meals on Wheels, the Marion County Rescue Squad and the Soup Opera. She was a driving force behind the formation of the Marion County Parks and Recreation Commission and helped build Fairmont’s Windmill Park into a centerpiece of African-American community life.
Mrs. Parks, 80, passed away from breast cancer last week at her home in the Chesapeake community.
With a litany of accomplishments that rival Nobel laureates, her family found it surprising their request to hold Mrs. Parks’ memorial service outdoors at a park she dearly loved was rejected by the Fairmont city manager’s office.
Fairmont Mayor Brad Merrifield lobbied the city manager’s office to allow the ceremony to go forward at Windmill Park, said Parks’ daughter Romelia Hodges.
“Fairmont’s mayor, Brad Merrifield, advocated on the family’s behalf for this request over this past weekend. His efforts fell on deaf ears with city officials. I appreciate his genuine concern and his empathy shown toward my family in this difficult time,” Hodges said in a letter distributed to local leaders. “He even mentioned that if he had the ability to make the decision it would have been approved. He also informed me that City Manager Valerie Means made a judgment call.”
Merrifield said he indeed tried to get the city to reexamine its denial.
“I reached out to see if they would reconsider their answer of ‘no’ and I couldn’t get any traction on it. There were concerns about the Covid situation, along with liability concerns,” Merrifield said. “I did what I could do and I was sorry I couldn’t come back with a different answer. It’s a request that definitely has some merit. It just didn’t work out for reasons only the city can really answer.”
City manager Means is out of office on personal leave this week and unavailable for comment, according to her administrative assistant.
When contacted by phone regarding the city’s decision to deny the memorial service request, Fairmont City Attorney Kevin Sansalone offered only a curt response.
“I have no comments for you. Thank you,” said Sansalone before hanging up abruptly.
Nevertheless, the funeral service will proceed as planned on Thursday at 11 a.m. at Windmill Park, permission granted or not, according to Hodges.
“If my mother’s last stance as a civil rights activist has to be an act of civil disobedience for her funeral, then that will be what our family will choose to do,” said Hodges.
The memorial service seems to have the blessing of Marion County Health Department Administrator Lloyd White, who has worked closely with Hodges as he has overseen the county’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“If they can maintain social distancing and wear masks, they can do it safely. I would have no issues with it,” White said.
Hodges, in fact, is a commissioner with the COVID-19 West Virginia African-American Task Force and has been an advocate for and a leader of coronavirus testing events since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Romelia has been involved in this type of thing before. She knows what to do and how to do it. I think if they just listen to her, I’m sure she’ll do it right. With that being said, I have no issues with it. They know what to do and they can do it. I’m quite confident they can do it safely,” White said.
Hodges referred to two recent large in-church funerals within Marion County’s African-American community that drew more than 200 attendees. She said she disagreed with how those services were structured and is taking pains to ensure her mother’s service is conducted in a safe manner.
“I found those funeral services so negligent. We don’t even know what the fallout will be from those two occasions. I want to set a precedent where you can still honor your loved ones, but you can do it responsibly,” she said.
Hodges said she is acting within the COVID-19 guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I do know the law. And when I asked to use Windmill Park, I did so under the CDC guidelines for best practices in the COVID-19 era we’re in. I realize it’s unconventional, but the CDC allows for things that are unconventional during a pandemic,” she said. “It states the guidelines for best practices for holding funeral services. For limited exposure, it recommends services at an outdoor facility.”
Hodges quoted her late mother as stressing the importance her memorial service be conducted in a safe, socially-distanced manner.
“My mother said to me recently, ‘I’m dead, so I don’t want people dying to come see me. You’d better do something that’s responsible.’ I said, ‘Yes, ma’am, I promise we will do something that’s responsible,’” said Hodges.
To accommodate persons wishing to pay respects remotely, the service at the park will be live streamed via Facebook. A large viewing screen will be set up at Windmill Park. Individuals will be able to convey words about Mrs. Parks either in-person or remotely.
“Being a commissioner with the task force, I thought it was responsible of me to choose a facility that will not put lives at risk, as well as accommodate my mother’s wishes,” Hodges said.
Tiffany Walker Samuels, who has served in several area leadership posts in recent years, credited Parks for improving life for all Marion County residents.
“She led the way for all of us, not just African-Americans, but all of us,” said “From free textbooks to welfare reform to civil rights, the lives of all residents of Marion County are better today because of the work that Amy Parks did in the 70s and 80s. For that, we should honor her legacy.”
Following an intimate gathering for family at Domico Funeral Home on Thursday morning, Parks’ body will be transported to Windmill Park for the outdoor memorial service.
“The funeral will be on Thursday from eleven until the end,” said Hodges.
Interment will follow at Evergreen cemetery.