Parker once shy, mom says

West Ashley resident Kay Parker holds up photographs of her daughter, newly elected Houston Mayor Annise Danette Parker, the first openly gay person to lead a major U.S. city. The younger Parker is a 1974 graduate of Stall High School in North Charleston.

Politics seemed an unlikely career for Stall High School graduate Annise Danette Parker.

"There's shy and then there's painfully shy," her mom, Kay Parker, said. "She was painfully shy."

Annise Parker, 53, isn't shy anymore. She was elected mayor of Houston on Saturday and will be sworn in Jan. 4 as head of the nation's fourth-largest city.

Growing up, her family lived all over. Her father worked for the Red Cross and was stationed near military bases around the globe.

Following a stint in Europe, the family came back to the Charleston area and Annise Parker finished her senior year at Stall, where she joined the track team. She left the area after graduating in 1974 and earning a National Merit Scholarship to Rice University in Houston.

The mayor-elect said Wednesday what she remembers about Stall -- and coming in cold to a new high school in America -- is that it taught her how to make news friends.

She didn't think much about politics then, but going to Stall helped lay the foundation. "That was a good learning experience for what I do now," Parker said.

While working in the Texas oil and gas industry, she began forming her political instincts. She became a gay rights activist in the 1980s and won a seat on City Council. She was Houston's city controller until winning the mayor's race, becoming the first openly gay person to lead a major U.S. city.

Kay Parker, who has lived in Charleston since 1989, said her daughter's motivation is to lead Houston in the best way possible, not to be tied to her sexual identity.

"That is such a small part of her life," said Parker, 71, who has a home in West Ashley. "She really doesn't want that to be who she is known as."

Annise Parker has a sister who lives in Georgia. A brother and her father are deceased.

Kay Parker described her daughter as an accomplished politician. "She's up-front, honest and tells it like it is," she said. Annise, who has a partner and two children, visits Charleston occasionally.

One area that mother and daughter don't discuss is party politics. The two come from different sides of the political aisle.

The mayor-elect said she's the only Democrat in a long line of Republicans, jokingly calling herself the black sheep of the family.

Said her mother: "My Republican tendencies and her Democratic leanings, we don't agree on a lot of politicians."

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551, or skropf@postandcourier.com.