What’s the stuff of greatness? If you consider the life of Aldyth Parle, who died last month at 89, it’s the plain cloth of public service. If you called her an “influential person,” she would emphatically reject the notion. However, her low profile but unyielding advocacy was felt as far away as Washington D.C. It’s likely every Santa Clara City or County resident’s life has been bettered in some way by her efforts.
“She lived the example of leadership by serving,” said Santa Clara City Council Member Teresa O’Neill at a public memorial May 17 that drew about 300 people. (The date was also an anniversary of the day in 1951 when Parle’s brother Chuck was reported MIA in Korea.) “Aldyth would never ask you to do something she wouldn’t do herself, whether it was to write a check, make phone calls, set up for meetings, or lend yourself for an important cause.”
After graduating from Santa Clara High School in 1942, she earned a BS in Nursing from UCLA, graduating summa cum laude. She went on to earn a master’s at Columbia. In 1954 Parle became Santa Clara County’s first Public Health Nurse, pioneering a multi-team approach to public health interventions, according to Barbara Reider, County Director of Public Health Nursing.
She was also a founding member of Heart of the Valley, Services for Seniors, Inc., helping elderly people live independently in their own homes. “She always talked about prevention,” said State Senator and former County Supervisor Jim Beall. “She took us all on home visits so we could have a connection with the people we were serving.”
Parle wasn’t shy about going door-to-door, recalls Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren. “Boy, did she know how to walk precincts. I remember going on rounds with her. She walked fast because she wanted to get to households who needed her help.”
Many area politicians fondly attest to Parle’s drive. “She always had something for me to do,” noted Congressman Mike Honda.
“Any time I saw her, she’d grab my sleeve and drag me over to a corner where she could talk to me,” Beall recalled vividly. “I always feel that little tug on my sleeve when I go into the chambers of the state senate.”
She was a lifelong advocate of women entering politics. Elected to the Santa Clara City Council in 1996, she served for two terms and launched the city’s award-winning government ethics program.
Parle also had a sharp eye for talent in others, and a sharper will to foster it, recalled O’Neill. “I was one of the many people encouraged by Aldyth and I’m sure there are many others here today who got the Aldyth treatment. She could be relentless, in her sweet way. Aldyth [was] the first person to say that I should run for Santa Clara City Council.”
Chair of the health department’s legislative committee, “She taught staff to be effective in educating and advocating,” said Reider “She was responsible for local preparedness. That was why we were well-prepared in 1989 for the Loma Prieta earthquake and were able to send public health teams to LA after Northridge [earthquake].”
“When I was first elected,” remembered former County Supervisor Rod Dirdon Sr., he soon learned that “when Aldyth asked you to do something, you didn’t ask for a study. If you didn’t do it, you were in trouble.”
“In heaven, she is on her way to a meeting,” said friend and former City Council colleague John McLemore. To which Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews added, “She’s not only at a meeting – she’s introducing people to one another.”
Family and faith were important to Parle, who spent the first hour of her day reading her well-worn Bible in the same house she grew up in. “Many may not have realized that,” said O’Neill, “because Aldyth was too busy living her faith to talk about it very much.”
Parle was the third of eight children of George Bernard Parle and Florence Crawford Parle, who moved from Washington in the early 1930s. In 1932 the family moved to the Fremont Street house where Parle lived until her death; sharing it during the last two years with sister-in-law Lillian Parle and great-nephew Christopher Parle.
George Parle worked in the sheet metal trade, but died in 1942, leaving Florence with five children still at home. Florence worked for the Rosicrucian Museum, supplying an example as both a single parent and working woman that informed Parle’s compassion and fearlessness.
One day Parle brought home a fellow-student who needed a place to stay. The family adopted Evelyn so unhesitatingly that she stayed for 63 years and was always introduced as a sister. “We grew up during the hard years,” said Walter Parle, Parle’s youngest brother. “The way we were brought up, the door was always open and nobody ever left hungry.”
A plaque in the Fremont Street dining room honors the three sisters “Aldyth, Florence, Evelyn” where the dining table was the site of many happily-remembered family gatherings at Grandma Flo’s; a tradition the three girls carried on after their mother’s death.
As a girl, Parle was just as energetic, niece Damiene Marciano said, and excelled in school – even though she sometimes had to be excused to return a family cow that followed her there like Mary’s little lamb.
She could also be fun, said Walter Parle, recalling Parle taking him and a friend for a ride in a county ambulance. Marciano remembers trips to San Francisco with “Auntie Al,” where they always shared a private joke about the addresses “One Polk, Two Fell.”
Parle adored her growing flock of great- and great-great nieces and nephews. “She loved all of the family and she was always happy to see you,” said grandnephew Christopher.
“If Aldyth were asked what she wanted to be remembered for, she wouldn’t say a word,” said Lillian Parle. “She just did what she thought she should be doing.”