Wildlife office gains new voice

U.S. Army veteran Karen Murdock Parker is the new name, face and voice of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for 16 northern counties. Parker replaced longtime spokesman Dewey Weaver, who retired a few months ago after 28 years with the state agency.

KAREN VOYLES/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 1, 2003 at 1:13 a.m.

LAKE CITY - Sitting in a windowless office beneath a colorful wooden plaque that reads "Hunters, fishermen and other liars gather here," Karen Murdock Parker is known as "The New Dewey" to her colleagues. To the rest of North Central Florida, Parker is a new name, face and voice that will be delivering information about hunting violations, boating accidents and lots of other information about the outdoors.

Parker, 44, has replaced Dewey Weaver, 55, as spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regional office in Lake City, one of five regional offices around the state. She will be the gatekeeper for information about the agency in Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Citrus, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Hernando, Lafayette, Levy, Madison, Suwannee, Taylor and Union counties.

Weaver, 55, retired earlier this year after a 28-year career with the agency during which he rose to the rank of lieutenant. Weaver did not completely leave the public stage. His affable nature was rewarded when he was returned to the Columbia County Commission for a second term this past fall.

Weaver began his career with the commission at about the same time Parker was enlisting in the U.S. Army. She served for 25 years in the public affairs division before retiring as a Gulf War veteran and sergeant major in August 2001. While most of her time in uniform was spent issuing releases, handling news media inquiries and maintaining community relations, Parker also was expected to meet the Army's standards each year which included handling firearms.

"With the 9 millimeter (handgun) I was great," Parker said. She was so proficient during one re-qualification firing that the man standing behind her jokingly told her he never wanted to make her mad if she was near a gun.

"Then I had to qualify with the M16 and things didn't go as well," Parker said. "I came out on the low end of qualifying, which would have been a problem if they had put me in the infantry."

During her career, Parker completed her bachelor's degree at Golden Gate University in San Francisco and her master's degree in journalism at Ball State University in Indianapolis, which qualified her to a tour of duty teaching at the Defense Information School that serves all branches of the military.

After retiring from the Army, Parker was hired by the beleaguered Florida Division of Elections. Her job started after the controversial 2000 election, but in plenty of time for her to get a real close look at the problems with the mid-term elections.

"I was a publications manager and a graphic artist, so I wasn't dealing directly with the media," Parker said, "and that didn't bother me."

While much of the spokesman's job is fairly routine, like getting wildlife management area brochures sent to the most appropriate counties for hunters and speaking to community groups, the most visible tasks Parker will likely perform will be the most somber. Regional spokesmen are often responsible for explaining fatal boating and hunting accidents.

"After 25 years in the military, death and injury are something you learn how to talk about, but it is never easy," Parker said.

Parker's military and state government experience were deciding factors in her being offered the job, said Major Calvin Adams, the top officer in the region.

"She understands the rank structure and the media, so now she will just need a little time to understand the fish and wildlife issues," Adams said. "That shouldn't be a problem because she has no fear of tackling any issues."

Weaver's advice to Parker - besides telling her where to find things in the files he left behind - was "to have fun and enjoy the job," Parker said. "When I leave here in 25 years, people will probably be calling my replacement 'The New Karen.' "

Karen Voyles can be reached at (352) 486-5058 or voylesk@ gvillesun.com.

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