Mary Olive Parks, 61, of Gainesville died Wednesday night following a battle with cancer.
An advocate for children and champion of the underdog, Parks influenced thousands of people across the state of Georgia, her presence most felt in the Hall County school system where she dedicated more than 40 years of her life.
Parks began her career as a special education teacher at Riverbend Elementary School before becoming assistant director of student services alongside retired special education director Robert Everett.
"Every superlative in the dictionary that can describe a good wife, mother and employee would apply to Parks," Everett said. "She was highly intelligent and extremely energetic. She was one of the friendliest, most gracious people."
Parks strove to ensure the children of Hall were cared for. After 14 years as assistant director, Parks was named director of student services.
"She never knew what an eight-hour work day meant. She always went above and beyond for her job and her family," Everett said.
Parks was a Girl Scout troop leader, a quilter, a crocheter and loved spending time with her family at their Michigan lake house.
"There is not a more beautiful person on this earth," said Carol Pitts, Hall County social worker and past employee of Parks. "She was a friend first, a boss second. I can't imagine the number of people affected by her."
After retiring from student services, Parks continued to work for Hall County's youth, becoming a founding member of the Hall County Family Connections Network. Through the network, Parks worked with organizations such as United Way and the Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
"She was a workhorse. She worked weekends and did what she needed to do. Parks was in the office on Monday," Pitts said.
Parks even spearheaded a grant network where Hall residents could propose and write grants to bring money to the county.
"Parks was the person people saw to get something done," said Wendy Glasbrenner of Georgia Legal Services.
"Parks was instrumental in the Hall County Drug Free Coalition and the Teen Pregnancy Alliance. She had an ongoing effort to improve the county's graduation rate," Glasbrenner added.
Parks never stopped trying to aid and assist the families in the community, determined to do her best to ensure a successful future for each child.
"Her passion was trying to help children and families. She was a powerhouse and a really great role model," Glasbrenner said. "She worked more than a full-time job for this community."
Of all Parks' traits, friends said her laughter will be missed most.
"She was an instant friend. Enthusiastic, energetic — there's always one thing that sticks in your mind about a person, and for me, it's Parks' laughter," Pitts said.
The family has announced that visitation will be on today from 5-8 p.m. and from 3-8 p.m. on Saturday at Banister Funeral Home in Dahlonega. Dr. Mary Park's funeral will be at Banister's on Sunday at 1 p.m. Her burial will follow at Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in Dahlonega.