Making a Difference: Don and Libby Parkinson

A Place to Call Home

When Don and Libby Parkinson moved to Louisville 37 years ago, they came to stay.

Don, a former auto executive in Detroit, took a job with YUM Brands at a time when the couple wanted to make a permanent home to raise their children. Having lived in locales as far-flung as San Francisco, Buffalo, and Florida, they remembered their two years in Lexington and wanted to return to the Bluegrass State.

“We love Kentucky and we chose to come back,” said Don, now the secretary of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet.

“We like the quality of life, we like the beauty of the landscape, and the friendliness of the people. Louisville and the state are very welcoming to new people coming — so you get the opportunity to get involved very quickly,” he said.

And get involved they have. Don, a long-time member of the boards of the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts and its endowment, also served two stints as its interim director. And Libby, an advocate of the Governor’s School for the Arts, founded the Commonwealth Fund for KET’s Louisville Board, an advocacy and fund-raising volunteer organization.

For their children, Libby said, the quality of life in the Commonwealth also played a role in returning to Kentucky.

“They absolutely have loved growing up here. And our grandchildren would prefer coming here than going to many other places they have the opportunity to visit,” she said.

“There’s just so many wonderful things to do, people are friendly, it’s a beautiful state — what’s not to love about Kentucky?”

As the family became full-fledged Kentuckians, they frequently turned to KET for their viewing, recognizing its unique place in the heritage of the Commonwealth.

“We enjoy several things about KET. When the children were younger it was Sesame Street all the way. And now we love many programs, like Doc Martin, Keeping Up Appearances, Mystery! and Masterpiece,” said Libby.

“But then we love the local programs, programming that showcases the local things: the orchestra, the ballet, or something out in the state. So KET brings a lot of what’s innovating out in Kentucky to us,” she said.

Further, her husband added, KET provides a unifying force which — through its diverse mix of history, heritage, and public-affairs programming — unites the state.

“KET serves a very, very important role in the state. The state is a very large state, and it’s dominated by some outside television markets. People in Western Kentucky probably know more about Nashville than they do Pikeville,” he said.

“But KET is the only organization that focuses only on Kentucky and brings people together so that they can understand everything that’s going on. It’s important communication. It’s important for people in Eastern Kentucky to understand what’s happening in Western Kentucky, and vice versa.”

And now, as Kentucky embarks upon a celebration of its 225th year of statehood, the Parkinsons say KET comes to the fore with another important role to play.

“KET is recording the history of our state, and it has been doing that for some time,” Libby said. “And this month, KET is showcasing the history and the pride we have as Kentuckians.”

Her husband agrees.

“Art and heritage is so very important to building quality of life. We are seeing improvement in employment and economic development, but it’s not enough just to have economic development. You’ve got to have cultural development, too,” he said.

“We need to understand, participate, and appreciate the arts to lead a fuller and more satisfying life. That’s what we are about at the cabinet, and here at KET: to offer new ideas and opportunities in arts and culture that might not otherwise be available to you.”

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