Obituary: Kara Wojcik Parsons
Successful e-commerce executive, enthusiastic volunteer, loving mother and wife
Former Claremont resident Kara Wojcik Parsons, 54, of San Francisco, died peacefully at home on May 8, 2019, her 26th wedding anniversary.
Born in Bitburg, Germany on October 7, 1964 to Joe and Suzanne Wojcik, Kara was the middle child of three. In 1969, the family (including older brother Joe Jr.) moved to Edison, New Jersey with her sister Alison born soon thereafter.
Growing up, Kara was a swimmer, gymnast, cheerleader, student body president, loyal friend and excellent student. She graduated from J.P. Stevens High School in 1982, and in her graduation speech, she first uttered the question that would echo through the Parsons house for decades: “Do you have a plan? Because without a plan, you lack substance and direction.” Kara did indeed have a plan.
Ms. Parsons spent her freshman year at Franklin and Marshall in Lancaster, Pennsylvania followed by a year at the Sorbonne in Paris, where she honed her French skills.
She then followed her parents to Claremont to finish college at California Polytechnic University, Pomona. She always had a job while attending college, including a stint at Walter’s Restaurant in the Village, where she was beloved by staff and customers alike, and as a lifeguard and swim teacher at The Claremont Club.
She graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a bachelor’s in operations management and a minor in statistics. Her first move after college was not to enrich herself financially, but to enrich others. Ms. Parsons volunteered in the Peace Corps with training in Zaire and a later post in Rwanda. In typical Kara fashion, she was soon running the local hospital.
After arriving back home to Claremont, she decompressed briefly before finding a job in the Bay Area. Relocating to San Francisco, Ms. Parsons began a successful career in retail, marketing and e-commerce, which she sustained until her death.
An initial job managing a Gatorade production line in Oakland segued to a position with Macy’s, where she worked her way quickly up the management ladder. After seven years at Macy’s, the internet company Travelsmith lured her to manage its marketing, which included Ms. Parson’s appearance on television programs like Good Morning America.
When Macy’s launched its online store in 1999, Ms. Parsons was enticed to return to the company as the Vice President of Marketing and Site Merchandising. Over the next eight years, she helped drive revenues to over $750 million annually, with innovative online strategies and her ability to manage and inspire teams.
After leaving Macy’s, Ms. Parsons had senior management roles at several startups and eventually became VP/Managing Director at Café Press. Her retail experience combined with the company’s print-on-demand business model gave her a business idea: print-on-demand home decor.
As founder and CEO of her own e-commerce startup, Uneekee, Ms. Parsons created a category that larger retailers are still struggling to figure out. She continued as a consultant to other companies, including Morgan Stanley’s retail investment arm.
Kara met her husband John Parsons in 1989 while sharing $1.50 pitchers of beer at the Front Room, a small pizza place on California Street in Nob Hill. Their first date was set for October 17, but the Loma Prieta earthquake postponed the introduction until the following week. They were together from that moment forward and married in 1993.
In the olden days of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, viewers were told that every one of us is special, which is true. But some people are just more special than the rest. To family friends like Janell Lewis and Victoria Greening, Ms. Parsons was “an especially special person.”
“She brought a brightness and positivity to everything she did—and she did a lot. She embodied the entrepreneurial spirit in launching two business ventures, while at the same time raising three wonderful, well-behaved boys, empowering her husband to pursue his dreams, and participating actively in her city life.”
Mr. Rogers also told viewers to “Look for the helpers,” and indeed, Kara was an extraordinary helper. She gave generously of her understanding, kindness and energy, which her loved ones admired.
“Kara never lost her sense of fun, always sending the best emojis, and pitching in with well-placed quips,” friends shared. “Her bright presence will be deeply missed, yet the power of how she lived her life will remain. By being in the world, she made it better.”
From 1993 until 2001, Ms. Parsons traveled globally for work and play, competed in triathlons (including competing in Escape from Alcatraz twice), and began her second career as a real estate magnate.
For 20 years, the couple lived in North Beach, buying, improving and selling two homes while keeping the local “M” restaurants in business: Michelangelo Caffé, Maykadeh and Mo’s were staples for the couple. In 1999, while training for a race, Ms. Parsons was hit by an 18-wheeler while riding her bike. Pinned under the back wheels, she had an epiphany: Have children and be grateful for every day you have on the planet.
When son Max was born in the wee hours of September 13, 2001—just 43 laborious hours after 9/11—her world changed. Now, in addition to successful retail executive, house flipper and, as her adoring husband shares, “the best wife on the planet,” Ms. Parsons added “mom” to her list of job titles. But like everything she did in life, she overachieved with humility.
In November 2004, son Harry came along. But soon after, she said, “What do you think of having three? Two is boring,” her husband shared. A third son, Gus, arrived in May 2006 and the family unit was complete.
“Kara was the undisputed president and CEO of the Parsons family,” her husband shared. “And the men of the house loved working for her.”
She was determined not to be defined by the disease that took her life, her family shared, and she fought with courage, grace, hope and grit until she no longer could. Perhaps nothing is more indicative of her personality than her commitment to raise money to fight pediatric cancer after being diagnosed with cancer herself. Ms. Parsons was one of Swim Across America’s top fundraisers for five continuous years, swimming miles and miles in the San Francisco Bay, competing just six months before her death.
“Kara was a beautiful soul inside and out,” Mr. Parsons said of his wife. “Her generous, selfless heart was evident to all who knew her. She made an impression without ever trying to. Her smile could part the clouds. She was a gifted, witty conversationalist, quick with a quip and always equipped with just the right probing question. People told her things because she really listened. She was a loyal friend. She was a true partner. She was adored.”
Ms. Parsons leaves behind a legacy of love, accomplishment, generosity and kindness that is rare in this world and will never be forgotten.
She is survived by her husband John and their sons Maxwell, 17, Harry, 14, and August (Gus), 13; her mother, Suzanne Wojcik, of Claremont; her brother, Joseph Wojcik, and his wife Brooke and their sons Jack and Logan of Ladera Ranch, California; her sister, Alison Wojcik, of Lakeside, Montana, and her son, Kyle Ochoa of Azusa. Her father Joseph Wojcik predeceased her in 2012.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Ms. Parsons name to Swim Across America (swimacrossamerica.org) and the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco (kidsclub.org).