Joan H. Parker, 80, Mystery Writer’s Muse, Dies
By JOYCE WADLER
Published: June 13, 2013
Joan H. Parker, the widow of the mystery writer Robert B. Parker and the inspiration for one of his most independent heroines, died on Wednesday in Boston. She was 80.
Boston Globe, via Getty Images
The cause was lung cancer, her son Daniel said.
A witty, irreverent woman who favored black leather pants and high-heeled boots, Ms. Parker was an avid, and adventurous, fund-raiser for a variety of causes. “Not long after Bob died, three years ago, she agreed to fly the trapeze at the Big Apple Circus to raise money for a charity,” said a longtime friend, Cheryl Bentsen. “It dispelled the image of an elderly widow.”
To fans of Robert Parker’s mysteries starring the tough but tender Boston detective Spenser, Ms. Parker is best known as the model for Spenser’s girlfriend, Susan Silverman, an independent psychologist who never let the hero become too impressed with himself. Although Ms. Parker insisted that this was an idealized portrait, she did not deny the similarities.
Joan Hall was born on Oct. 16, 1932, in Pittsfield, Mass., and grew up in Swampscott, a suburb of Boston. She met Robert Parker when they were both students at Colby College in Maine. They married in 1956 and had two sons. Ms. Parker became a professor of early childhood growth and development at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass., and was later director of curriculum for public schools in northeastern Massachusetts.
When Ms. Parker had breast cancer and a double mastectomy in the mid-1970s, she and Mr. Parker collaborated on a frank book about the experience, “Three Weeks in Spring.” She also collaborated with him on screenplays adapted from his books.
They separated in the early 1980s, then reconciled two years later and began an unconventional living arrangement: Ms. Parker lived on the third floor of their rambling Victorian house in Cambridge, Mass., while Mr. Parker lived on the second floor. They had separate entrances and kitchens and, much of the time, separate schedules.
Despite the living arrangement, the couple remained close. Mr. Parker died of a heart attack in 2010 at 77.
Always fit, Ms. Parker ran the Harvard Stadium steps into her late 70s.
Ms. Parker embraced gay causes in her charity work. Her sons Daniel, an actor, and David, a choreographer, are gay. Still glamorous in a fitted white jacket and sleek wig, she spoke at a fund-raising event two weeks ago for Pflag (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).
“It has been our mission to encourage parents everywhere to remember how much they love their children and express their love through acceptance of their true identity,” she said. “I must say as a mother of two gay sons, it was the thing I did best.”
In addition to her sons, Ms. Parker is survived by a 2-year-old grandson, Spenser.