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Sandy Parker, a force in the Rochester business community, dies at 75

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Sandy Parker, the longtime head of the former Rochester Business Alliance and one of the most influential forces in the region, died Saturday. She was 75.

Friends and former business associates confirmed her death and said that it was sudden.

Parker was a key player in forming what today is known as the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce.

It was Parker, who as head of the nonprofit business organization, Industrial Management Council, orchestrated a merger between her group and what was then the Greater Rochester Metro Chamber of Commerce in 2002. The two groups combined the following year to form the Rochester Business Alliance, which was later rebranded as the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce.
Sandy Parker in 2014. - FILE PHOTO
  • Sandy Parker in 2014.

The bringing together of the two groups was no small feat. Doing so required the two groups to set aside bitter differences that in 1994 resulted in the head of the Greater Rochester Metro Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Mooney, being removed from the Industrial Management Council board.

Melding the chamber, which promoted local businesses, and the council, which provided human resources services and training to area businesses, effectively made the Rochester Business Alliance a stronger advocate for the area’s business community and an influential force in a wide range of community matters, including education policies, publicly-financed construction projects, and skyrocketing health care costs.

Mooney headed the newly formed Rochester Business Alliance through 2004, and Parker took over from there before ceding her title as president to former mayor and lieutenant governor Robert Duffy in 2015.

In a statement released Sunday, Duffy called Parker a "trailblazer" who left a huge and positive imprint on the region through her commitment to philanthropic work, education endeavors, and economic development initiatives.

"Sandy quietly seeded goodness throughout the Rochester community for decades, sitting on dozens of boards and councils, never seeking attention or recognition," Duffy said.

During her time at the helm of the organization, Parker was known as a facilitator and an astute diplomat who was skilled at coaching, cueing, and coddling a vast collection of Rochester businesses, from large and small manufacturers to health care companies, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, and retailers.

RELATED: Sandra Parker: No apologies

In 2006, barely more than a year into her term as president of the Rochester Business Alliance, she brokered another merger that saw the alliance absorb the nonprofit business collective, Rump Group, which was headed by local developer and entrepreneur, John “Dutch” Summers, who she would later marry.

Later in her tenure at the Rochester Business Alliance, Parker would co-found Unshackle Upstate, a coalition of business groups that has since been renamed Upstate United and advocates for lower taxes and fewer regulations in New York to spur economic growth.

“Sandy Parker was a warrior and champion for employers in Greater Rochester, helping lead the region through challenging times," read a statement issued by Mayor Lovely Warren on Sunday. "She was ever vigilant in ensuring that Rochester’s business community was heard by local leaders and that they responded to the needs of our local economy."

In her statement, Warren added, "Her passing is a sad day for our city, but we will remain grateful to her for making our community a great place to live and work."

Jennifer Leonard, president and chief executive officer of the Rochester Area Community Foundation also referred to Parker’s ability “to pull together different sectors of our community, on behalf of the community.”

Leonard said that Parker built a coalition that went every year to Albany with a set of unified requests. In terms of Parker’s leadership style, Leonard said, “She was willing to be out front when she needed to be and she was happy to be behind the scenes making things happen.”

When Parker retired from the Rochester Business Alliance, she told WXXI News in a December 2014 interview that while she had not realized she would be in her role at the organization as long as she was, she would still miss the work.

“This job has been very fulfilling to me, it’s been wonderful from the standpoint that every day, it’s been something different," Parker said. "I’ve gotten to meet many different, just really exciting and interesting people at all levels across the state, I’m going to miss that."

David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at [email protected].

Randy Gorbman is the news director at WXXI News, a media partner of CITY.