CONCORD, N.H. – The ROC movement lost one of its stalwarts recently when Lois Parris died at the age of 79.
Lois served for many years as a leader at Lakes Region Cooperative in Belmont, N.H., a community that owes its 20-year status as a ROC in part to her determination to make sure the 111 families who lived in that neighborhood also owned it.
It was the second time Lois had stepped up for her neighborhood’s future, and the success drove her to step up even more. She advocated for her fellow homeowners locally as her co-op’s Board President, regionally as President of Manufactured Home Owners & Tenants Association of New Hampshire and Board Member at the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, and nationally as President of the National Manufactured Home Owners Association.
ROC USA® President Paul Bradley said the transition in Lois was remarkable, and one that ended up changing more lives than her own as she became educated and involved in every aspect of resident ownership.
“Lois always said she’d been a shy person who didn’t speak up much outside the home, but I never met that Lois Parris,” he said. “The Lois I knew had a moral compass that always showed her what was right and what was wrong, and she never strayed from that.”
Perhaps Lois’ most lasting impact on the manufactured home community sector came in 2001. That’s when Paul Bradley, then with the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, and George “Mac” McCarthy came to her home for a visit. Mac, a former professor and a skilled economist, was the new program officer at the Ford Foundation where he was tasked with creating grants and loans for rural affordable housing to support Ford’s mission of reducing poverty and injustice and promoting democratic values.
That meeting at Lois’ kitchen table was all it took to convince McCarthy that resident ownership was not just an equitable alternative to commercial manufactured home communities, but also a bankable one.
“Many people, even those who were also working for safe affordable housing, considered manufactured housing part of the problem,” McCarthy said, adding that strong, capable leaders like Lois are critical to eradicating the unfair stigma around manufactured housing. “Now we’ve forged powerful relationships across the affordable housing spectrum and ROCs are no longer viewed as toxic places.”
Buoyed by Lois’ example, McCarthy led Ford to make significant investments in the burgeoning resident ownership movement, which led seven years later to the launch of ROC USA® as a national social venture that took the Community Loan Fund’s pioneering ROC work in New Hampshire to the rest of the country.
When Lois and her neighbors bought their community in 2000, it was the 45th ROC. Today, thanks in part to Lois’ hard work, ROC USA works with 257 ROCs in 17 states.
Lois would serve on the ROC USA Board of Directors in the organization’s fledgling years, bringing the critical perspective of a ROC Member to the Board as ROC USA navigated its startup phase amid the Great Recession and housing crisis of the late 2000s.
When her two terms were up, Lois and successor Natividad Seefeld brought more ROC Member voices to the ROC USA Board by helping organize the ROC Association. That dramatically changed ROC USA’s Board makeup, replacing one ROC leader appointed by ROC USA with three ROC leaders elected by their peers. The three constitute about a quarter of the entire Board.
“I think the inclusion of Member community owners serving on the Board brings insights that they couldn’t possibly get any other way except through the people who live in our communities,” Lois said in 2013 at the Association’s launch.
Seefeld said parents teach their kids how to make and keep friends, and that Lois was one of those special friends her parents taught her about and to always hold close to her heart.
“When we started the ROC Association together we had no idea where it would go but Lois told me, ‘This will get big, just imagine all the voices we will share in the future,'” Seefeld said. “She was such a kind and caring person but she would also say what was on her mind when she knew it was important. I will miss her smile and her hugs.”
“Lois Parris was a quiet leader and fierce advocate on behalf of a movement that she helped to create,” said Andrea Levere, ROC USA Board Chair and President Emerita of Prosperity Now. “Her leadership aimed to build community among owners of manufactured housing, and advance the economic security that they deserved. She brought her wisdom, charm and knowledge to her neighbors, legislators and national regulators with equal impact and influence.”
Lois was recognized by her peers in 2012 when she was presented the I’m HOME Leadership Award during that network’s national convening. In 2018, as part of ROC USA’s 10th anniversary week, Lois appeared on the “Everything Co-op” radio show/podcast. She and four other past and present ROC Association Directors appeared live with host Vernon Oakes in his Washington, D.C., studio, to talk about the benefits of ROCs.
“But typically she took little or no credit for tireless efforts beyond the deep satisfaction of supporting homeowners achieve ownership over their financial lives,” Levere said. “Knowing Lois was one of the great joys and honors of my life.”
Lois leaves behind four children, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, as well as a legacy of advocacy and leadership that will endure for years and benefit thousands.