Edwin Huntington Parker, costume designer for theater and ballet groups.

Parker
Parker
Posted: March 04, 2014

WHEN Edwin Huntington Parker's Philadelphia apartment was robbed, he shrugged and said, "They probably needed it more than me."

That sounded like Parker. He was generous and forgiving almost to a fault.

"He was honest even when it was to his detriment," said longtime friend Robert Kahn, AIDS activist and supervisor in the city's Anti-Bias Agency. "He was one of the most honest, positive and generous people I have ever known."

Edwin Huntington Parker, well-known in the theater world as a costume designer who worked with local theater and opera companies and toured the world with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, died Feb. 9 of metastatic lung cancer. He was 72 and lived in South Philadelphia.

Early in his career, Parker was the assistant costume designer for the Loeb Drama Center, at Harvard University. He then joined the Alvin Ailey Theater of New York as director of wardrobe and touring wardrobe supervisor.

He worked with the renowned dancer Judith Jamison and toured with the company throughout the U.S., North Africa, the former Soviet Union and Europe.

Doing wardrobes was often a challenging enterprise. Once in Morocco, part of the company's cargo was lost and Parker had to go shopping for yellow straw hats used in a number for the company's popular "Revelations" ballet.

"He had to put on flowers with hat pins," said Sylvia Waters, archivist and former director of the troupe's Ailey II offshoot for 38 years. "I can't remember what else was missing, but he had to go out shopping for everything, and we used those hats and other pieces for a long time after that."

"Revelations," which features African-American musical themes, from spirituals to the blues, was ragingly popular wherever the troupe went.

In the Soviet Union, "we had to be escorted to the bus because so many people wanted autographs, wanted to shake your hand," Waters said.

The troupe also wowed the audiences in Paris and London.

Waters recalled how Parker had to handle local crews, "different languages, different customs, and he had to be in charge of that" wherever the troupe went.

He was director of wardrobe for the Pennsylvania Ballet and did costumes for Mummers groups.

His company, E. Huntington Parker Designs, worked with the La Salle Music Theater, Philadelphia Civic Ballet, Astral Inc., Ballet Kloss, Brandywine Ballet, Gloucester County Institute of Technology, Vineland Ballet, Peabody Opera Company and Dance Del Bello.

Parker was a wardrobe stitcher for the Walnut Street Theater and Prince Music Theater. He also worked in telemarketing for the Walnut Street Theater.

"He was certainly a very affable person, funny, had a great sense of humor," Sylvia Waters said. "Very warm. Hard worker."

In the '70s, she said, the Alvin Ailey company had 13 to 17 members. "It was like a family. The crew was as much a part of the family as the dancers were."

Parker was born in Providence, R.I., to Robert Morgan Parker Sr. and the former Margaret Snedeker. He graduated from East Providence High School and went on to the Boston University School of Fine and Applied Arts, Theater Division, and the Meyer School of Fashion and Design, in New York City.

He was a member of the Alpha Psi Omega National Theater Honor Society.

Parker, also called "Hunter" by his friends, was well-known in the Philadelphia gay community. He belonged to gay fraternal organizations and was a fixture and raconteur at a former gay nightclub in the city. "He spoke to everyone," Robert Kahn said, "and had an encyclopedic memory of their names and life histories."

He was also a gourmet cook. He was active in the cooking class at Jackson Place, the senior center at 5th and Jackson streets, where he lived. He formerly lived for about 20 years at Moyamensing and Snyder avenues.

Parker was the recording secretary for the Jackson Place Residents' Association. Mary Ellen Thomas, the senior housing manager, said that Parker "worked tirelessly to encourage members to follow Robert's Rules of Order." He was also the proofreader for the monthly newsletter.

He is survived by a brother, Robert M. Parker Jr., and a sister, Carol Helgerson.

Services: Will be held in Swan Point Cemetery, in Providence, R.I., in early July.

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