Several hundred people showed up Friday evening to honor the man they called the voice of the community for his efforts to help minorities get hired and promoted.
Attorney Edwin Parms, who is retiring after 47 years of practicing law, was praised for his steady push for civil rights during an invitation-only gathering at the Roetzel & Andress law firm in Akron.
Parms, 74, who enjoys playing golf and tennis, said it was time to slow down and relax.
“You were tireless in your pursuit for fairness and equality,” said Judge Annalisa Williams, co-chair of the lifetime of achievement celebration. “Thank you for your leadership and tenacity. You made Summit County a better place for us in the academic, civic and political field.”
There was a long list of people who talked about his accomplishments.
State Rep. Vernon Sykes recalled Parms giving the commencement speech at his graduation from South High School in 1969.
“He was considered a champion of the people,” he said. “He was outstanding then and has continued to be an uncompromising advocate for all of us. He was a mentor to me. It’s always been my goal to obtain some of the accomplishments he achieved.”
An Akron native, Parms was one of eight children. He graduated from Buchtel High School in 1955, earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Akron in 1960, and served in the U.S. Army earning the rank of first lieutenant.
He earned his law degree in 1965 and was admitted to the Ohio Bar Association that year. He started a private practice with attorney Joseph Roulhac, who became the first African-American municipal court judge in Summit County.
Classmate Judge James R. Williams said just as Roulhac welcomed Parms into the law firm, Parms extended the same courtesy to Williams.
“He had an office for me and clerical help. More young people have interned for him and just about every black attorney worked in his office,” Williams said. “... He has always cared about young people and the welfare of our community.”
Classmate Judge Mary Spicer said there were 26 people in their law class. She was the only woman; Parms and Williams were the only blacks.
She said she was always impressed with Parms because he was dedicated and serious. He had a day job and went to school at night.
“He was a devoted family man. He was steadfast to his causes,” she said.
Spicer said Parms would come in her office and question why there were no blacks working in probate court, or question something about the jury.
“It was never one visit, it was many visits. He was persistent,” said Spicer. “We didn’t always agree, but nothing was ever said in anger. He was always kind, polite, respectful, and always followed things. It wasn’t enough to see him and talk with him. He wrote follow-up letters thanking me for my time. He has always remained a good friend.”
NAACP President Ophelia Averitt said Parms urged her to run for president after she served as vice president for five different men.
“He told me it was time,” she said. “He asked me what kind of president I was going to be, someone who is there only when someone needs you or someone who is always there. I learned from the best — he was always there.”
She thanked Parms, a former NAACP president, for his active civil rights journey.
Parms is noted for challenging the racial composition of black firefighters and police officers in the city of Akron with a federal lawsuit in 1972.
Former police Chief Ed Irvine said when he joined the police force in 1963, there were only seven black officers, one black sergeant and no women. Now there are 140 black officers, 60 sergeants and female officers.
Daughters Stephanie Hodoh and Deborah Burns said whether their father was in the courthouse or the schoolhouse, his goal was always to set things right, reaching out to others, making sacrifices, and doing what was required.
“No one had to tell us he was great,” said Hodoh.
Always dapper, Parms, dressed in a tuxedo, acknowledged all the members of his family including brothers and sisters, eight grandchildren, and special friend Linda Davis.
Co-chairman of the event Ed Gilbert, a former law partner, said his nickname for Parms was “Do-you-want-a-job-Parms” because Parms always asked people if they needed a job. Gilbert said Parms is responsible for at least three of his jobs serving as a board member or legal counsel for various organizations.
Gilbert, who is president of the Akron/Canton Barristers, a group Parms started, gave Parms a Visa card for travel. A scholarship fund at UA has also been named for him.
Parms was showered with many proclamations, including from the Akron City Council, the Summit County Council, the NAACP and from Vernon Sykes.
Parms has served as president of the Akron branch of the NAACP and the Akron Frontiers Club (a black professionals group) as well as its legal counsel, and has been a board member for the Akron Community Service Center and Urban League, the Salvation Army and the local United Way.
He has been secretary of the Akron Bar Association and the Akron-Summit Community Action Council, a member of Wesley Temple AME Zion Church and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
He has won the Harold Stubbs Humanitarian Award in Law and the Akron Jaycees Award for Outstanding Community Service. He was also nominated for the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award. The prestigious national award recognizes substantial, long-term contributions to furthering civil rights in the United States.
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.