Richard W. Parker was a brilliant lawyer, an accomplished teacher and scholar, and a valued member of the administrative law community. He cared deeply about people—foremost his family, about whom he spoke lovingly, and about all others with whom he interacted.
Richard’s concern for others is reflected well in the remembrances that have been assembled in this collection of tributes in Yale’s Notice and Comment, written by his peers in the profession.
Chris Walker describes Richard as having been “always so kind and supportive.” Jamie Conrad notes how Richard was “disarmingly gregarious and affable, and remarkably modest.” Linda Jellum recounts the kindness Richard showed her 11-year old daughter when she had to sit in on a class that he and Linda co-taught together. Linda also relays Jeff Lubbers’ description of Richard as “a true gentleman and a scholar” who was both “very mild-mannered” but also “often the life of the party.”
Bernie Bell recalls, among other interactions, the “extremely thoughtful, wise, kind, and supportive” email conversations he and Ron Levin had with Richard over an ABA data privacy resolution. Amy Sinden offers appreciation for Richard’s “ability to listen and to do so with genuine interest and respect.” She comments that Richard’s style of leadership was “never heavy handed, his approach was instead so gentle, so charming, and so self-effacing, you hardly realized you were being persuaded.” Neil Eisner expresses gratitude for Richard’s graciousness and perspective; he explains how Richard never “let little things bother him.”
Joe MacDougald, Richard’s colleague at the University of Connecticut, remembers how Richard was “a life-changing mentor” to his students and how his infectious enthusiasm always made talking with him “exciting and fun.” Most of all, Richard was “someone who truly cared,” Joe observes.
The ABA administrative law section has rightly adopted a resolution mourning Richard’s passing and expressing our abundant appreciation for his “tireless and good-natured service.” As Aaron Nielsen aptly notes, Richard was a “doer” of administrative law. And as Alberto Alemanno reminds us, Richard’s brilliance at “doing” even extended to the international stage through his involvement in discussions over the terms of regulatory cooperation in a major transatlantic trade deal.
Although Richard accomplished much in his life and accumulated impeccable and well-earned academic credentials—from Princeton, Yale, and Oxford (as a Rhodes Scholar, no less)—he never exhibited even a whiff of pretention. As the tributes from his peers in the administrative law world make evident, he was always ready to offer a smile and a kind word to and about others, even those with whom he disagreed.
Maybe Richard’s core decency derived from his genuinely down-to-earth personality. Or maybe it emanated from his childhood roots, growing up in a small town in South Texas near the Mexican border. Or maybe it just stemmed from his unbridled curiosity and zeal. I do think he saw in other people an opportunity always to learn more. He never ceased to seek new knowledge and to learn from meeting new people.
Richard also always seemed full of energy. This was both figuratively and literally so. I was on the hike up Turtlehead Peak that Jamie Conrad mentions in his remembrance. About all I recall of Richard on that day was confined to the first short section of the trail, because he was soon bounding exuberantly up the steep trail, with its 2,000-foot elevation gain, while I slowly plodded along, far behind on the trail.
Richard’s exuberance for exploration undergirded all that he did as a scholar, teacher, and lawyer. I feel privileged to have known him over the course of many years due to our common research interests and shared involvement in the ABA’s administrative law section. In years past, I invited him to come to Penn so he could share his ideas with my students, captivating them with his charm, energy, and insight. In the final months of his life, he and I also joined together in a couple of podcasts organized by both the ABA section and the Penn Program and Regulation. I will cherish those conversations along with the many others I had with Richard over the years.
What I believe is Richard’s final scholarly publication took the form of a contribution to an Administrative Law Review symposium that I helped organize with Neysun Mahboubi. Richard’s article in that symposium built upon and expanded an earlier essay he wrote for The Regulatory Review—and both pieces took as their starting points the stark differences in how New Zealand and the United States have fared during the Covid pandemic.
Richard saw the pandemic as “the ultimate final exam in administrative law and governance,” one which the United States tragically failed. At the time his piece in The Regulatory Review was published—June 2020—Richard could observe that “more than 110,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, [while] New Zealanders, on the other hand, have experienced only about 1,500 cases and 22 deaths (the equivalent in population percentage terms to about 1,400 Americans).” I think if Richard were alive today, he would probably remind us that Covid has led to a staggering 930,000 deaths (and counting) in the United States, while New Zealand has to date experienced only 53 Covid deaths.
At the time his Administrative Law Review article appeared in the spring of 2021, Richard observed that it was not just New Zealand that had fared better against the onslaught of the novel coronavirus. Many other developed democracies had done much better as well. Richard explained that, had the United States experienced similar rates of mortality as these other countries, hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved. And he argued that this saving of lives was in fact achievable. Even though other countries had different conditions and different governmental structures, they responded swiftly and did a much better job than the United States in following what Richard called the public health “playbook.”
The key difference in mortality outcomes, Richard argued, lay with the policies that other countries adopted and with their ability to carry them out. In other words, governmental performance was key. And in his estimation, the U.S. government’s performance in response to Covid, especially during 2020, had been abysmally “slow, uneven, decentralized.”
Richard ultimately believed that government could be an important force for good in the world—whether in response to pandemics or to other social and economic problems. This was not a naïve belief on his part. Having worked in various government positions throughout his career, he understood the all-too-real challenges government faces. But he also saw public service as a calling. Through his own scholarship and service, Richard lived out this calling and sought to find ways that law and government could help make people’s lives better.
Richard’s belief in the importance of government shone through all his scholarship. Over the years, he made a bit of specialty in seeking to refute others who he saw as leveling unfair criticisms of administrative agencies and government regulation. His belief in government was also deeply evident in his founding the University of Connecticut Law School’s “Semester in DC” program and in all the work he did on behalf of his students in that program. His belief in the importance of responsible government was also obviously evident in his work within the ABA, through which he joined with many others in seeking to improve administrative governance.
When Richard died, his immediate family lost a loving father and spouse. The administrative law community suffered a deep, tragic loss too. We lost an energetic and engaged lawyer-scholar who was committed to the public interest and held fast to his abiding concern for others.
We would all do well to remember Richard’s integrity and concern for others by living out these values in our own personal and professional lives. We could honor his life best by striving to express, in our own ways, even a fraction his intellectual exuberance and his faith that sound administrative government can work to make the world a better place.
Cary Coglianese is the Edward B. Shils Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science and the Director of the Penn Program on Regulation at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.