Special Olympics leader to retire

  • Published
  • By Susan Griggs
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
The driving force behind Special Olympics in Mississippi is retiring June 30.

Helen Parish from Brandon, Miss., has been involved in Special Olympics for 35 years. She began her involvement as a sports program volunteer and moved up in the organization to work as office manager, director of operations and executive director. She retires as president and chief executive officer for the program.

Parish says it's a big job to coordinate the entire Special Olympics program in the state, but Keesler's 28-year history as host of the summer games streamlines the planning process.

"So many of the Keesler personnel come back year after year," she pointed out. "They're so knowledgeable about what needs to be done that there are rarely any big challenges."

"It's so rewarding to see the joy, pride and sense of accomplishment on the face of our athletes," Parish added. "We always say that if we can get you to Special Olympics, you'll be 'hooked' and you'll return."

"Helen Parish is like no one I've ever met," said Jackie Pope, airman and family readiness center director. Pope has volunteered with the state games for 18 years and currently services as a member of the Mississippi Special Olympics board of directors.

"Helen has the biggest heart - she's a dynamo!" Pope continued. "She knows most of the athletes by name and their faces light up when she speaks to them. I feel so blessed to have worked with her and known her for all these years."

Capt. Joshua Tate, 335th Training Squadron and Special Olympics project officer, described Parish as "the grandmother everyone wants. She's very loving and gentle, but very stern and down to business when she needs to be."

Tate pointed out that Parish is a living example of one of the Air Force's core values - service before self.

"She has a deep love for Special Olympics, Mississippi, and helping people," he commented. "She is always putting the interest and comforts of others above her own. You could not ask for a better wingman. After her longtime friend and Special Olympics staff member, Janie Allen, suffered a stroke the night before our kickoff luncheon, she didn't even think twice about where she needed to be. She stayed with Janie and made sure she received the medical care she needed."

After retirement, Parish is relocating to College Station, Texas.