By Joanne Maisano
It will come as no surprise that many very influential and talented people migrate to Middleburg’s relaxed rural setting, where they find solace and some peace from the madding crowds of the eastern urban centers. One such resident lives a few miles north of town on her historic Huntland estate.
In addition to being an ordained Episcopalian minister, Dr. Betsee Parker is the 17th Baroness of Lochiel, Scotland, a noted philanthropist, naturalist, conservationist and a world class owner of show ring hunters. Dr. Parker was always involved with philanthropy in the U.S. when her husband was alive, but after he passed, she thought hard about what she wanted to do that would
make a difference.
Dr. Parker later read an article by Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, a macroeconomist for Columbia University. She remembers thinking that Dr. Sachs was “able to integrate many different disciplines together into an organized effort and push into sub-Sahara Africa; into the poorest areas of that continent attempting a large-scale effort with only Columbia University participants that included some engineering, agronomy, hydrology and health professors.”
She subsequently traveled to Columbia University and showed up at Dr. Sachs undergrad seminar on Sustainable Development. When she heard Dr. Sachs discuss how he had gone into these villages and transformed the quality of life in areas where there is no other aid, she was quick to get on board.
The then secretary-general of the U.N., Kofi Annan, was so impressed with their program that the U.N. wanted to adopt their model of Sustainable Development. Malaria was down 80 percent, and people were able to grow so much corn and grain they could export or share the excess.
Ericsson Cellular stepped in and donated phones and erected cell towers so the villages could communicate and facilitate sale of goods. Next came the building of roads.
The U.N. sent representatives to audit the results. Based on those findings, Dr. Sachs was invited to become the U.N. senior adviser for Sustainable Development. This provided the resources and infrastructure to assist other continents that were requesting access to the program.
Following U.N. involvement, Dr. Parker began to meet with heads of state for think tank discussions about collapsed health care systems. Among them was President Conde of Guinea, with whom she met during the Ebola crisis.
Dr. Parker said, “her team was asked to create a model to attack the health care crisis caused by Ebola.” They were able to contain it within two years.
Dr. Parker and her team also met with President Paul Kagame of Rwanda to discuss the development of six satellite sustainable development centers in Africa.
Following these successes, Dr. Sachs was asked to come to the Vatican and the Pontifical Academy to assume the role of senior adviser on sustainable development. Dr. Parker, an ordained Episcopal minister, was asked to be the keynote speaker at their youth seminar, where people brought ideas from all over the world to find solutions for the sustainable development goals. (She is the only woman clergy currently working with the Cardinals.)
This seminar generated 6 million tweets! Dr. Parker plans to attend the second seminar, which will be held in November.
Dr. Parker is doing all she can to better the lives of the people in the poorest of African villages. She refers to it as “a humanitarian effort that can use all the support it can get.” Her future work in Africa is to go on behalf of the U.N. to refugee camps.
As if the humanitarian work is not enough, there are other interests driving Dr. Parker. On a recent trip to Scotland, Dr. Parker was assigned the Barony of Lochiel by the Duke of Argyll. This means she is the 17th Baroness of Lochiel, a title created in 1608 by King James I of England and Scotland.
As Baroness of Lochiel, Dr. Parker will be assisting the Duke in conserving, preserving and restoring the historic archive at Inveraray Castle in the West Highlands of Scotland. Since most of these archives are in Latin and Gaelic, Dr. Parker explained that it is necessary “to have a scholar who can decipher and preserve them and in some cases, restore them.” She went on to point out that the “head archivist is an impressive Ph.D. from Edinburgh University who specializes in Latin and Gaelic and preservation of futile documents.”
With the help of scholars specializing in Scottish clan history, they are creating a rare books room and scriptorium with climate control. In the attic of Inveraray Castle there are 30 trunks filled with historic charters, deeds and census documents written with quill pens and sealed with wax. None of the material has been looked at in at least a century.
Finally, Dr. Parker has a passion for the hunter show ring. She started riding western saddle as a child growing up in Minnesota, and then soon moved to the English discipline. By age 16, Dr. Parker had learned how to hook up the trailer and haul the horses across the state to local shows. She did all her own braiding, since there weren’t professional braiders back then.
“The sport today has transformed and become a big industry,” said Dr. Parker, “It’s not the elitist sport it used to be.”
Dr. Parker tries to conserve her horses, going to as few shows as possible to still qualify for the big shows like Devon, Harrisburg and Washington International. She specializes in show ring hunters.
In the early 1970s, Dr. Parker trained with legendary rider and coach George Morris. That gave her the ability to see a good horse. “You also need to learn about the veterinary care, farriering and the emotional life of the horse. You have to be able to pair the horse and rider. They have to be the highest caliber athlete … you need that combination,” she pointed out.
At the Upperville Colt and Horse Show, Dr. Parker’s Huntland Farm brought five horses that were Devon champs. Four of them went champion and two (A Million Reasons and Private Life) went double Grand Champion.
Dr. Parker’s show ponies and horses come to Huntland to retire. She likes to say that “they owe her nothing but she owes them everything.”
They are her pets and she loves them dearly. Dr. Parker has had horses and ponies live as long as 35 or 40 years.
Now she has a wonderful foal out of her horse Everly, and sired by her winningest hunter, now retired, Cold Harbor. She has named him after his Grace, ‘the Duke of Argyll.’ When she called the Duke to tell him, he said he must travel to Middleburg to meet his namesake.
With many chapters written, and more to go, Dr. Betsee Parker’s amazing journey is one to follow wherever the path leads. ML