Sylvia and William S. Parsons
Museum Chief of Staff William (Bill) S. Parsons has devoted 30 years of his career to Holocaust education, but that’s not surprising given his family background. His father, E. Spencer Parsons, a minister who worked tirelessly to advance the civil rights movement and the war on poverty, imbued his children with a strong desire to promote mutual respect and confront injustice.
While studying history at Cornell College, one of Bill’s professors, a Holocaust survivor, challenged him to understand the complexities of the Holocaust, and thus began his lifelong journey as a Holocaust educator. It was not long before the creators of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum took notice of Bill and his passion for teaching Holocaust history, especially his role in founding Facing History and Ourselves, a national organization that trains teachers to engage students in an examination of racism, prejudice, and antisemitism.
In 1991, Bill was invited to join the Museum’s Education Committee and share his innovative ideas and philosophy. He recalls Sara Bloomfield, now the Museum’s director, placing a blank piece of paper before him and saying, “We are opening in two years. How can we best serve the nation?” Bill could not envision a more enticing challenge, and he became director of education. Three years later, he was promoted to chief of staff. Asked how he could leave education for administration, he explained, “It’s just a bigger classroom.” In fact, Bill still teaches, traveling throughout the country to educate people about the Museum’s work.
Bill and his wife, Sylvia, recently began to contemplate their legacy and their role in shaping the future. They have decided to name the Museum as the beneficiary of a substantial portion of their retirement plan assets, one of the most effective ways to make a lasting impact on an institution that has played such a pivotal role in Bill’s life.
Recently, Bill realized the effect his life’s work has had on others. As his father did with him, Bill speaks often with his son, Scott, about the importance of not standing idly by when witnessing injustice. Following a recent Museum tour Bill gave to Scott and his friends, Scott remarked, “I understand, Dad, and I want to be a part of this.” Bill knows Scott’s commitment to the Museum will remain a part of the Parsons’ enduring legacy.