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In Memoriam: Tom Parker

Faculty member Tom Parker holds part of an aphrodite statue
Tom Parker with Aphrodite and NC State students

S. Thomas Parker, a member of NC State’s history faculty since 1980, died unexpectedly of cardiac complications on Sept.12, 2021.

Committed to unearthing the past, Parker studied Roman history and archaeology, especially the Roman Levant. His research focused on the economy of the Roman Empire, Roman frontiers, the Roman army and the origins of Christianity.

“Tom Parker was an incredibly dedicated teacher, a mentor to hundreds of undergraduates and graduate students at archaeological excavations across the Middle East, an internationally recognized scholar in his field of ancient Roman history, and a colleague you could always count on to do his fair share and more in the department,” said David Zonderman, head of the Department of History. “I knew Tom for nearly 30 years and considered him a friend as well as a colleague; he will be deeply missed by many people.”

Tom Parker (back row, center) shows his Wolfpack pride alongside NC State students during an excavation in Petra, Jordan.

In a career spanning more than four decades, Parker received numerous grants and fellowships for his archaeological projects from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Geographic Society, the Al-Hima Foundation, Foundation for Biblical Archaeology, NC State, East Carolina University, and private donors, among others, His notable excavations include:

  • The Limes Arabicus Project: The Roman Frontier in Central Jordan.
  • The Roman Aqaba Project: The Economy of the Roman Port on Aila on the Red Sea.
  • The Petra North Ridge Project: Reimagining Urban Space in Petra, Jordan.

As part of the Petra North Ridge Project, Parker and a team of faculty and students in 2016 discovered two marble statues of the mythological goddess Aphrodite. The find made international news and helped uncover more clues about the history of the region.

Chancellor Randy Woodson honored Tom Parker with NC State’s Alumni Association Outstanding Faculty Research Award in 2017.

Parker authored numerous books, reports and articles, including serving as a regional editor for the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World in 2000. He also was a passionate educator and lecturer who won numerous awards for his research, teaching, and mentorship on the graduate and undergraduate levels.

In 2017, a group of Parker’s former students-turned-faculty celebrated his work with a Festschrift, a collection of papers honoring his contributions to Roman Arabia and Jordanian archaeology.

Parker was an NC State Alumni Distinguished Graduate Professor and a member of the university’s Research Leadership Academy. Most recently, he was named the 2021 recipient of NC State’s Michael Dickey Outstanding Research Mentor Award for his excellence in mentoring and supporting undergraduate researchers. Here’s what one student wrote for Parker’s nomination:

“Every day I go into work, I have been not only supported but trusted and valued. My opinions and suggestions are consistently heard, expected, respected and taken seriously. To know that Dr. Parker trusts me enough to conduct independent database and textual analysis for his ongoing publications has played a crucial part in my undergraduate career.”

Tom Parker sits in his office on the NC State campus in 1981.

Parker earned a bachelor’s degree in history and religion from Trinity University in 1972 and his Ph.D. in history from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1979. He joined NC State’s History department as an assistant professor in 1980 and was promoted to associate professor in 1986 and to professor in 1991.

He is survived by his wife, Mary Mattocks, and his daughter, Grace Parker.

In his memory, the American Center of Research (ACOR) has established the S. Thomas Parker Fund to support fellowships, field projects and events.