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 Mark Parkinson Awarded Honorary Doctorate by Wichita State University

​The leader of the nation’s largest association for long term and post-acute care providers was recognized for a lifetime of achievements in his home state of Kansas this week. Mark Parkinson, president and chief executive officer of the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from Wichita State University (WSU) on Dec. 15 in Wichita, Kan., where he gave the commencement speech to the graduating class.

“This has emanated from him wanting to lift others up,” says Andy Tompkins, PhD, interim president at WSU. Parkinson served in the Kansas legislature, was lieutenant governor, the 45th governor of Kansas, and led the Republican party in the state.

After helping the elderly in Kansas with his own elder care facilities, Parkinson was selected to lead AHCA/NCAL as president and CEO. At AHCA/NCAL, he has earned a number of honors, including Modern Healthcare’s 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare, CEO Update’s Top Association CEO, The Hill’s Top Association Lobbyist for several years, and The Washington Post’s Top CEO in the small employer category.
“This is a person who is a role model for our students,” says Tompkins, citing Parkinson’s achievements in helping others. “He’s come, he’s worked hard, he’s earned political prominence—not only in a political setting but in his career. And he’s come back and paid it forward for others. We think it’s admirable.”

An honorary degree is an honor bestowed on a person without fulfillment of the usual requirements. “Honorary degrees are conferred only upon persons of notable intellectual, scholarly, professional, creative achievement or service to humanity consistent with the endeavors of the university,” says Tompkins. “He embodies all of these.”

Growing up in Wichita, Parkinson was involved in WSU from an early age. “We had a really good basketball team, and some of my earliest memories are sitting around with my dad listening to them play basketball in the early 1960s,” says Parkinson. He and his family lived across the street from the university, which continued to be a fixture in his life.

“As I got older, we would sneak out at night on the golf course and putter around on the greens. My very first job was when I was 14, and I worked as a busboy in their campus club for professors.” Parkinson later pursued a bachelor’s degree at WSU, where he was a star member of the debate team. “So really for the first 22 years of my life, the whole university was a big part of my life, and that means a lot,” he says.

Parkinson and his wife, Stacy, fund three scholarships for WSU students. One scholarship is to help students earn internships in Washington, D.C., another is for students of the WSU debate program, and the newest scholarship helps children of undocumented immigrants earn college degrees.

“By far the most meaningful to Stacy and me is that we’ve been able to fund the scholarship for Dreamers, immigrants,” says Parkinson. “We believe like a lot of people that the country is based on immigrants, and the current wave of anti-immigrant sentiment is really unfortunate. We’re thrilled to have a way to work with our university and in a small way address it.”

His message to the graduating class had nothing to do with mission or metrics.

“A lot of commencement speeches talk about the importance of mission, which his important, but that’s not what my speech is going to be about,” Parkinson says. It is the same case with the importance of metrics, he says. There are a lot of important metrics like getting degrees, getting a job, and so forth.

The topic of his speech, he says, has to do with the answer that Warren Buffet gave when he was asked what he considered his most important metric. “For me, this is based on my time in our long term care buildings and also my becoming an older person,” Parkinson says. “The most important metric is that at the end of your life, of the number of people that you want to love you, how many of them actually do love you.”

When Parkinson’s name surfaced as someone who would be extremely worthy of the honorary doctorate degree, Tompkins was not surprised. “When he was our governor, his speeches to the legislature at the State of the State were kind of legendary,” he says. “He was such a great speaker.”

When Parkinson was finishing his term as governor, Tompkins was named president of the Kansas Board of Regents, which oversees the six universities in the state. Parkinson had come to a board retreat and given a speech challenging the members to help students be more successful by encouraging them to persist and complete their goals, and to hold high expectations.

“For several years after, the board met on several occasions and said, ‘We have to remember what Parkinson was challenging us to do,’” says Tompkins.

Parkinson clearly sees his life in service to others, Tompkins says. “Part of that service is helping others grow and get better and feel like they’ve contributed in some way,” he says.

“I think that even though people may have their own feelings about elder care places, it is a reflection of that caring. He wants to make sure that people are well cared for and especially in times when they are the most vulnerable. So he lives out this code that he has about being in service to others, and especially he wants to try to help young people reach their potential.”

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