You likely are familiar with the term, “playing the cards you are dealt.” That is what one must do in life. If you are dealt a bad hand, you move forward, nonetheless. Make the best of it.

Most of us would consider it a bad hand if you were to have a child born with a debilitating disease. Those families, however, treat it more like a blessing. I have learned that families with a special needs’ child seem to gain inspiration and perspective from their experience.

My friends John and Kay Parker know how to enjoy life and how to manage the cards dealt them, forever thumbs-up advocates. Life is good, they will proclaim if you allow them to testify. Their joy has been their son, Reid, who was born with a rare seizure syndrome that has left him physically and developmentally disabled with autistic behavior. Reid’s condition shocked the Parkers’ initially, but life’s lemon was turned into lemonade. They gathered around Reid like a mother hen and embraced his life and legacy. He became the star in the household. He would always be treated like everybody else in the family.

The Parkers are uplifted by travel, for example. See the pyramids along the Nile, take in the capitals of Europe. Visit the Vatican, see the Alhambra, the Eifel Tower, the Colosseum, tour the Hermitage with passion and experience the majesty of the Swiss Alps. What will we do about Reid? Simple. We take him with us.

That was made easier in that John’s executive level status with Coca-Cola enabled him to underwrite the costs of such travel, but since Coke based him in places like Oslo and London, taking in the best of Europe became convenient. The point to underscore is that the Parkers rallied around Reid in everything they did. His special needs got their undivided attention.

Laura, the oldest, Davis and Lucas have always been part of the support team. If the Parkers need a pinch-hit baby sitter, they often call on Malcolm Mitchell, the Super Bowl ring wearing former wide receiver for the Bulldogs and the New England Patriots and his girlfriend, Jasmine. John and Kay have literally adopted Malcolm. When Malcolm was recuperating from knee surgery they moved upstairs and gave Malcom their master bedroom.

Kay’s brother Tim Timmons and his wife, Diane, often take Reid to their home on Lake Keowee in South Carolina where Clemson coach, Dabo Swinney, is a nearby neighbor. Reid doesn’t care about that. In fact, he has not accepted the fact that Mark Richt is no longer the Bulldog coach. Kirby Smart, a Parker family friend, calls Reid his toughest recruit.

Those who are there for Reid, who is named for his paternal grandfather, Reid Parker, former UGA faculty chairman of athletics, are many—including his neurologist Dr. Larry Seiden of Atlanta. When Rachel, Seiden’s daughter, enrolled at Georgia she joined the “Reid’s Helper’s” Club. When Rachel became engaged, her fiancé not only asked Dr. Seiden for his daughter’s hand, he had to go see Reid for his consent.

While John has been a model father with regard to being a “Reid helper,” he rightly calls Kay an “angel.” There were no “Reid helpers” in Norway when John was working 18-hour days, there was no school for Reid and Kay had to tend to Laura, a preschooler, Reid and four-month old Davis. Kay became a special needs case herself. Few can soldier on in such circumstances like Kay, a kind-hearted mother Teresa who never met a charity she didn’t like.

Maybe you see something at this point that defines why the Parkers do the things they do. John grew up in Athens within walking distance of the UGA campus and its sporting venues, becoming imbued with a Bulldog passion that was over the top.

He loved Athens so much that, late in his career, he commuted weekly from London to spend his weekends at home. On those fall Saturdays when he was confined in some place like Paris, he would jerry-rig a string of wire in his hotel room, in an attempt to pick up the Georgia football broadcast on his radio.

Living in Athens’ charming district that is Five Points, which smacks of a back street in Paris or Brussels, John meets elite professors and UGA administrators at the Pub, J. Christopher’s, the Ex-Pat, the Pine and the Five and Ten, usually on foot or golf cart. John and Kay are social intellectuals, but as down home as they come. They could have originated the “give-back” notion. They give of themselves to causes and people because they are generous and big-hearted. If you waited on them to tell you, however, you would never know it.

While I think that comes natural with them, I suspect Reid’s story makes them want to share what they’ve got, not just a portion of their assets, but their time and altruistic affection.

Loran Smith is a UGA announcer and columnist for Mainstreet Newspapers.

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