Hugh Parmer (1939-2020)
Hugh Parmer, a former Fort Worth mayor and Tarrant County legislator who became a prominent international humanitarian, died Wednesday following abdominal surgery. He was 80.
A memorial service will be held at a later date with interment to follow at the Texas State
Cemetery in Austin.
The family requests that donations in Hugh’s memory be made to Tarrant Area Food Bank. Website: tafd.org
Hugh was born Aug. 3, 1939 to Rev. Quay and Mary Louise Parmer in Fort Worth. He graduated from Polytechnic High School and then earned a Bachelor’s Degree at Yale University. Hugh later earned a Master’s Degree from the University of Texas at Arlington.
A lifelong Democrat, Hugh ran for the Texas House of Representative and was elected at age 23, then the youngest to serve in the state legislature. After one term, he was selected in 1966 to serve at the Peace Corps headquarters in Washington. While there, he and Evelyn Grant married and had a son, Travis, and a daughter, Elizabeth.
The family moved to Fort Worth in 1969, and Hugh started a political consulting business. He helped direct political contests in multiple states and cities.
Hugh was elected to the Fort Worth City Council in 1975 and became Fort Worth’s 36th mayor in 1977. During his term, he named the first black municipal judge. Subsequently he secured the appointments of Clifford Davis and Mary Ellen Hicks, the first two black District judges in Tarrant Co. Parmer also passed the city’s first ethics code and financial disclosure ordinances for city office holders.
He was elected to the Texas State Senate 1983 to 1991 and served a term as its President Pro Tem. During his terms in the state legislature, Hugh authored, co-authored or sponsored 153 bills. The legislation included bills that provided hunger relief for hundreds of thousands poor Texans and forced health insurance companies to cover Alzheimer’s disease care. Hugh also authored a bill that provided coverage for mammograms – a bill that became the core legislation for other women’s health issues.
Hugh spent time educating himself in Texas law and then took and passed the bar exam to become a lawyer in 1988. He later bought a law firm that assisted local governments in tax matters.
In 1990, Hugh was elected the Democratic candidate to the U.S. Senate and unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Republican Phil Gramm. He twice ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives.
“You know how it goes,” Hugh said after losing to Republican Congresswoman Kay Granger in 1996. “Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you.”
President Bill Clinton in 1998 appointed Hugh Assistant Administrator of U.S. Agency of International Development’s Bureau of Humanitarian Response, a job that made him America’s man on the scene of global disasters. Hugh directed American relief efforts during the war in Kosovo, following hurricanes in Honduras and Nicaragua, and combating famine in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
It also started Hugh on a new career as an international humanitarian.
He left the government in 2001 and later became president of the American Refugee Committee, an international relief organization, in Minneapolis. In 2008, Hugh was named a research fellow at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
“Hugh served with honor and great distinction representing our nation in some of the most remote and challenging parts of the world,” said former Congressman Martin Frost. “Hugh Parmer was a true public servant and a real humanitarian.”
Hugh retired to Texas where he became adjunct professor at four universities teaching seminars on global aid and refugee affairs.
“Humanitarian crises are everyday news,” Hugh said in a lecture at Tarleton State University in 2017. “With understanding comes the desire to help. There’s a latent interest in most of us to make the world a better place, to save a life, to do good.”
Hugh is survived by Evelyn, his wife of 55 years, a son, Travis, a daughter, Elizabeth, son-in-law James Hinkle, and granddaughter Claire Hinkle. And, also, said Elizabeth, “many adopted family members. “
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