THAT'S LAUDERDALE

'Lunch With Les' illustrates the soul of Hilton Head

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comDecember 12, 2013 

Along these vaunted shores of paradise, life should be like a box of chocolates.

Sometimes it's more like a hot dog. In the right hands, it can come with great relish.

I think of the gifted hands of Les Parker, who first came to Hilton Head Island with friends and tennis rackets in the 1970s. He and Ann bought a condo in the 1980s, moved down from Atlanta in the 1990s, and loved it until he breathed his last on Dec. 4.

Les is like so many who grace this stage with new energy in the denouement of an interesting life. The best of them never seek the spotlight or applause, but leave us to ponder our own contributions in the moments we have together.

As a teenager, Leslie Edward Parker Jr. was talented enough to win a full scholarship to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, in his hometown.

The soft-spoken man with big glasses parlayed that into a steady career as a creative director in the shaky world of advertising agencies.

Through one of his largest accounts, Les literally left an imprint on advertising that survives him. It is Les' cursive handwriting in "The REAL Yellow Pages" slogan originally done for BellSouth.

At home, Les never quit dabbling in watercolors. Les and Ann's three girls thought family vacation trips to the mountains took forever, with Les stopping to snap pictures of every old barn he saw as art.

On Hilton Head, with "Annie" as his business manager, Les used his talented hands to write and illustrate three small books, one about alligators, one about dolphins and one about "Hilton Head's oldest and most mysterious visitor," the loggerhead turtle.

He said it was his way of imparting "basic information about the wonderful creatures that help make the Hilton Head experience mean more to both visitors and residents alike."

But I knew Les as the "Hot Dog Man."

For 15 years, he grilled hot dogs on his deck during the Heritage golf tournament. Neighbors brought the fixings for "Lunch With Les," and he quietly, always with a smile, grilled Ball Park hot dogs with no beef pedigree, and offered cold drinks and a chair in a yard that backed up to the 11th green of the Harbour Town Golf Links.

His dear Annie, a 1,000-hour volunteer at Hilton Head Hospital, got Les an official "Hot Dog Man" badge to match the ones she had on her red coat as chairwoman of the volunteer couriers during the Heritage.

Les plugged along after Annie died in 2007, but he never seemed quite the same to me. In fact, he told me he wasn't the same.

Now we're left to remember his ice-cold Coca-Colas, charred hot dogs, and beautiful little books, still available at the Coastal Discovery Museum.

Les might not have known that he joined a parade of other characters who have helped document and explain our priceless nature: Beany Newhall, Nancy Cathcart, Edith Inglesby, Alfred Loomis, Landon Thorne, Fred Hack, Orion Hack, Alva Cunningham, Todd Ballantine, Betsy Jukofsky, Carl Wellard, Barry Lowes, Betty MacDonald, Ed Drane.

The list could go on, but together they form a north star for this community for as long as it wishes to define its soul.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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