Happy Birthday Joannie Parker!


Happy Birthday Joannie Parker!

Joannie Parker, Jessica Gelson, Susan Niver Bernstein, Lisa Niver and Barbara Yorke December 19. 2009

Today she would have been 86 years old. This photo is from 10 years ago when she was a 76 year-old bridesmaid at my wedding! I first met her in 1983 when she was my junior year English teacher and the following year my senior year Women’s Studies teacher at Westlake School for Girls. She led by example and was president of many women’s organizations like CARAL, NARAL, NWPC, NOW and inspired us participate in marches like Hands Across America, clinic defenses, and brought us to museum exhibits like Judy Chicago’s the Dinner Party and the Birth Project and to poetry readings with Adrienne Rich. I remember when we did voter registration outside supermarkets on ironing boards.

When I was in college at Penn, Joannie used to write me letters on yellow legal paper with her flowing handwriting. Because of her class, I chose to have Women’s Studies as my major and wrote my thesis on Georgia O’Keefe and her life as a woman artist. I was able to have advisors from several different departments and look at the business of art and how gender impacts sales. After leaving medical school for a Master’s in Education, I did my thesis on gender role stereotypes in preschool children. I had an advisor from both SFSU as well as USCF Medical School and spoke about my research at the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Meeting. 

When I was back from Philadelphia or from medical school in San Francisco or some far flung destination in the years when I worked on cruise ships, we would go to lunch and discuss everything that had happened since our last meeting. Early on, she said to me, “Lisa, if we are going to be friends, you must call me Joannie.” I said, “Oh no, Ms. Parker, I could never do that.” She said, “Well than we cannot go out. Feminists call each other by their names.” Honestly, it was really hard to start calling Ms. Parker, Joannie, but I did not want her to say it was our last outing.

Joannie and I went to the ballet, the theater, the movies, dinner, lunch. There was always somewhere interesting to go and she always had something interesting to say! But when it came time to pay for a meal, Joannie would say, “It is feminist dutch treat. We will split the bill.” Except when she would say, “Tonight I am paying.” I would say, “Great! And next time I will pay.” She would say, “Next time will be feminist dutch treat.” I said, “But today you paid for us both.” Joannie would say, “And next time will be feminist dutch treat.”

Only once at the end of a meal, I said, “Today is take your favorite teacher to dinner day and so I have to pay the entire bill.” While she allowed me to pay, she also said that would not happen again.


When I was teaching, I always did a project for Women’s History Month. Joannie often came to join us for our celebrations. At Culver City Middle School when I was teaching 8th grade science, the English teacher and I paired up for a poster project. The students did the research in both of our classes and we took over a hallway to showcase their work. Teachers from other grade levels brought their students to our “museum” of women’s accomplishments. 

At Curtis School, I created Mom’s Career Day and each mom made a poster about their job. It was like science fair for careers. I loved the mom who brought monopoly money and houses to explain to the kids about being a banker. Some of the mom’s shared former careers and even their own children were surprised at what their mom had accomplished. We had moms with Emmys and other awards and moms that were changing the world in all different ways.


Joannie and I once went to lunch with a group of former Westlake girls. Joannie had taught all the moms and I was teaching the children at Brawerman Elementary School. We had so much fun. The moms loved Joannie’s class and the kids loved mine. Joannie used to come visit me and eat lunch and then stay for my classes. The students loved that she was my teacher and now I was their teacher. 

She was always ready to celebrate with me. I loved sharing my achievements when I would write for a new publication or accomplish a goal. Whether it was teaching at a new school and getting my students to understand a challenging topic or when I first began writing for Ms. Magazine, she was proud of me.

Recently, I represented Ms. Magazine at the United Nations Conference (GA 74 SDG 2030) in New York City. As I sat in the United Nations Women meeting with my hand on my ear listening to the translation of the speaker, I thought about my journey from Ms. Parker’s junior year English class and senior year of Women’s Studies. Joannie used to tell us, “Someday when you are the CEO of the company or you are president of the United States, you will…..” She would tell us this is the quintessential example of ….. and how she had an epiphany. I loved being in her class and being her friend. When I was at the UN, I thought I wish Joannie Parker could be here with me. She would love this. 

In honor of Joannie’s birthday, I went to see the new Judy Chicago exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts called The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction. Joannie would have loved the political element about extinction and what is happening to our planet. 

Joannie changed how I looked at the world. I am honored that she was my teacher and that she became my friend. I am fortunate to have had so many years of her love, support and encouragement. I will always miss her.

May her memory be a blessing.


Lisa Ellen Niver

Lisa Niver is an award-winning travel expert who has explored 102 countries on six continents. This University of Pennsylvania graduate sailed across the seas for seven years with Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Renaissance Cruises and spent three years backpacking across Asia. Discover her articles in publications from AARP: The Magazine and AAA Explorer to WIRED and Wharton Magazine, as well as her site WeSaidGoTravel. On her award nominated global podcast, Make Your Own Map, Niver has interviewed Deepak Chopra, Olympic medalists, and numerous bestselling authors, and as a journalist has been invited to both the Oscars and the United Nations. For her print and digital stories as well as her television segments, she has been awarded three Southern California Journalism Awards and two National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards and been a finalist twenty-two times. Named a #3 travel influencer for 2023, Niver talks travel on broadcast television at KTLA TV Los Angeles, her YouTube channel with over 2 million views, and in her memoir, Brave-ish, One Breakup, Six Continents and Feeling Fearless After Fifty.

6 responses to “Happy Birthday Joannie Parker!

  1. Lisa, Thank you for sharing your amazing journey with Joannie Parker. I can’t wait to look up we Said Go Travel! I am still always looking for adventure and strength in women. My daughter has absorbed my lessons and will continue our journey.
    Kimberley Barber Hieatt

  2. Dear Lisa, Thank you so much for this wonderful tribute to my mother. You really captured her spirit and since of fun and devotion to her students. She loved you very much and saw you as another daughter. Love,

  3. What amazing tributes to your teacher and friend. There is nothing like a teacher to make students see the the world and their place in from a perspective of involvement, power and change.
    May her memory be a blessing.

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