Team Player
Alumni association’s new director has rooted for the Bears all his life

By Cathy Cockrell
Public Affairs


randy parent

Randy Parent, director of the California Alumni Association, visits a favorite campus bear.
Noah Berger photo

27 February 2002 | Shortly before 9 a.m. the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, staff at the California Alumni Association received an e-mail with the subject line “8:45 a.m. status update.”

Organized in ten numbered paragraphs, the message from Executive Director Randy Parent included updates on members, prayers to anyone directly touched by the attacks back east, Parent’s personal cell phone number, and words of reassurance: “Please be calm.”

No one could have anticipated, Parent least of all, that two months after moving into Alumni House he would be leading his staff of 50 through a moment of national trauma. His reflexive response, however, fit both his training as a lawyer (he last served as deputy city attorney for San Francisco) and his reputation as a people person, motivator and team builder.

Parent has taken several right turns in the course of his career — segueing from music educator and school administrator to lawyer to alumni director — and yet he seems to have been headed, all along, for his role as leader of the 92,000-member association. If there is a through-line to his life, it is fierce allegiance to the team — whether as an ensemble musician, a city official, a Golden Bears fan, or a homecoming motivational speaker.

As executive director at the California Alumni Association, Parent oversees a broad program to support Cal and its students and keep connections strong between the university and its worldwide alumni. The association awards $1 million a year in scholarships to more than 1,000 Berkeley undergraduates, sponsors student internship programs in Washington D.C. and Sacramento, hooks up students and alumni mentors, offers career networking opportunities for its members, oversees the extensive Bear Treks travel program, and supports some 115 alumni clubs around the world.

Born in Berkeley and raised just across the East Bay Hills, Parent grew up in Cal country: his grandfather, mother, father, uncle, brother and sister all were students at Berkeley. Even before entering grade school, he attended Golden Bears games with his parents. At 9 he declared his intention to one day join the Cal Marching Band.

In 1973, as a freshman music major, he did just that, and five high-decibel years in the brass section made a lasting mark. Few experiences in life, he says, match the adrenaline rush of performing for a stadium crowd. “You get 50,000 people. That’s a pretty big stage,” he says.

A big stage
For Parent, a big stage suits. As a Berkeley undergrad, he spent three summers producing high-spirited musicals at the alumni association camp in the Sierras, and his fourth summer as senior manager of the Cal Band on its coast-to-coast U.S. bicentennial tour. In the 1980s, Parent was band director at Union City’s Logan High School.

“The 20 kids in the choir couldn’t sing, the 35 kids in the band couldn’t play,” he says of the struggling music program he inherited.

Soon, under his stewardship, the choir was 150 strong and the 200-member high school marching band — sporting plumed hats, spats, gloves, vests, pants and jackets closely resembling Cal’s — was one of the state’s finest.

Antonio Najera, whose kids went to Logan during that era and who was the first president of the band boosters group Parent started, recalls his impressions of the young Cal graduate who landed at Logan High. “I saw him able to interact very effectively with an extremely diverse student population… He also had a remarkable way of encouraging and giving credit to volunteers, which ended up with our wanting to work harder. He empowered.”

Najera’s son Anthony, now a flight attendant, recalls the teacher he still respectfully calls “Mr. Parent” — “dressed in jeans and polo shirts, kind of yuppie, young, very organized, fun but serious.”

“He was very approachable,” he says of Parent. “But when it came down to it, you knew who was in charge. He was able to wear many hats, and knew when to wear the appropriate hat.”

‘White noise’
Because he has lived so much in the public eye, few know the introverted Randy Parent, the man who recharges his batteries by being alone. Given a precious moment of free time, he’s likely to practice music (piano, trumpet or French horn) or teach his sons, 13-year-old Chris and 10-year-old Nico, to play. Although “down time” is difficult to come by these days, he especially savors moments alone with Carmen, his wife of 21 years.

Like others with musical gifts, Parent says his mind is flooded with music. He first heard this “white noise” before the age of 10 and even today is constantly hearing music in full orchestration, “all the parts.”

That’s in the midst of a new job with “a lot of volume.”

“At first,” he says, the sea of new information was like “a wave washing over you.” Now, names and faces match, he’s made three major hires, and he’s talking about his vision for the future.

Future goals
One goal of Parent’s is to work more closely with the various campus groups with which alumni have dealings. “For alumni, it’s all Cal,” he says. “It doesn’t matter to them whether they’re dealing with University Relations, the athletics department or the alumni association. They want their relationship with Cal to be seamless.”

Parent also hopes to knit Berkeley students more tightly into the alumni association’s programs and its culture; they’re the alums of the future, after all. To his mind, an event like homecoming should have a strong student component.

“I’m a strong advocate,” he says, “for making homecoming also an exciting event for students…. People come back to things they experienced, that had an emotional impact on them as a student.”

His own life, after all, is proof.


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Copyright 2002, The Regents of the University of California.
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