Students and faculty remember UI Lecturer Donna Parsons after sudden death

UI Lecturer Donna Parsons, who received three degrees from the university, died last week; she is remembered fondly by students and faculty.

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Students and faculty remember UI Lecturer Donna Parsons after sudden death

Photo via the University of Iowa School of Music

Photo via the University of Iowa School of Music

Photo via the University of Iowa School of Music

Photo via the University of Iowa School of Music

Charles Peckman, [email protected]

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University of Iowa students and faculty said they were “shocked” to hear about the sudden death of University of Iowa Professor Donna Parsons last week. Parsons, who received bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees from the UI, died on May 18 after fighting a short illness.

“Donna had a way of taking things that were viewed as strong, independent topics and asking students to delve into those topics, asking questions along the way,” Honors Program Associate Director Bob Kirby said. “She was good at helping people ask questions — she had a knack for doing that and getting students excited about different topics and … broader issues in history,”

Kirby said a large portion of Parsons’ work dealt with the Beatles, and her office walls were rife with pictures from her 11 trips to Liverpool, England. Parsons held appointments in the School of Music and Honors Program, and Kirby joked that “her classes always seemed to fill up quickly.”

Reaching out to faculty members and students past and present was not an easy task, Kirby said.

“We had to reach out to current students and graduates, and everyone had the same feeling: complete shock,” he said. “It was such a shock to have her with us working on final assessments and have her gone so soon.”

David Gier, the director of the UI School of Music, directed *The Daily Iowan* to the In Memoriam page on the School of Music’s website, saying, “It sums up Donna’s career at the UI well.”

“The faculty and staff of the School of Music are deeply saddened by the unexpected death of their colleague and friend Donna Parsons,” the page reads. “Donna’s connections to the University of Iowa are both broad and deep. Donna was also a popular teacher who enriched the lives of thousands of Iowa students through her courses both in the School of Music and in the university Honors Program. A social and cultural historian, Donna had a gift for drawing students into the study of popular music and culture as an academic discipline.”

Seton Warren, who took Parsons’ class on the Beatles last semester and traveled with the class to Liverpool over spring break, said she was saddened to hear about Parsons’ sudden death.

“The class was a large lecture, but I always felt like an individual in there,” Warren said. “If there was a [football] game that weekend, she would tell us to stay safe and hydrated. She was so passionate about the Beatles, and it showed in the way she taught.”

Warren said she found it difficult to pinpoint the most interesting fact she learned while in Parsons’ class because every lecture was full of fascinating information. It was interesting to tie in historical context with such an influential band, she said.

Aside from taking students on trips, Kirby said, Parsons had a way of getting all of her students involved in some area of research.

“Even when [students] didn’t go on trips like that, Parsons had people working in Special Collections,” Kirby said. “Donna always found ways to directly engage students, doing things in which they took ownership of what they were doing.”